Aubrey Plaza goes against type in the engaging drama-thriller Emily the Criminal, about a smart university dropout who, drowning in college debt, gets sucked into the world of identity theft and retail fraud.
Plaza gives a great performance as–you guessed it–Emily, with Theo Rossi delivering an equally strong turn as Youcef, the criminal “mastermind” who is the one who opens her eyes to certain lucrative side hustles. But what works so well is that the movie, written and directed by John Patton Ford, feels incredibly down to earth, grounded, and relatable. Emily feels like a real person, as does Rossi, and her journey unfolds organically.
I wouldn’t call Emily the Criminal suspenseful, but it is most certainly a thriller. As the crimes become more elaborate, the stakes grow higher, Ford sucks you into this little world of his. As “small” as the film is, Ford stages some compelling moments, including a car theft sequence in which Emily faces real danger early on (only to come back wanting more).
At its core, the movie is about taking hold of your own destiny. Limited by a small-scale felony conviction during her college years and incredible debt that keeps Emily from what she would consider success, her newfound career gives her hope and a sense of ownership of her life (and income). Emily the Criminal could have easily dwelled on the thrill of the crime, but that’s not what keeps her going. Ford, to his end, should be commended for fully embracing what makes his protagonist tick and weaving it through every second of his film.
By no means a massive epic, Emily the Criminal is a superbly made little film that never attempts to flex its muscles and succeeds accordingly.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.