“Emily the Criminal” is The Story of What One Person Will do to Survive

Synopsis: Down on her luck and saddled with debt, Emily gets involved in a credit card scam that pulls her into the criminal underworld of Los Angeles, ultimately leading to deadly consequences.
Director: John Patton Ford
Stars: Aubrey Plaza, Theo Rossi, Bernardo Badillo

When I think of Aubrey Plaza, I usually think of her comedic work. How can you not? She’s hilarious and has been gifted with great timing. From Parks and Recreation to Dirty Grandpa, she has a knack for the funny. She was also exceptional at hosting the Independent Spirit Awards.

Aubrey Plaza . . . funny!

I wasn’t prepared for her strong dramatic work in Emily the Criminal, but I’m thrilled I had the chance to see it. Debuting at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and soon to be released, the movie reveals that Plaza can do more than just comedy.

Plaza plays Emily, who represents many people today. She is consumed with financial debt with no relief in sight. She has difficulty getting jobs due to a criminal record. Emily is street smart and knows how to handle herself, but unfortunately, that skill does very little to endure her to potential employers.

From the film's opening moments, you realize you aren’t dealing with a funny Aubrey Plaza, but this is a dramatic turn. I couldn’t help but think of one of her former co-stars Adam Sandler, who, like Plaza, has had multiple projects of making people laugh but transitioned to drama so effortlessly.

Emily is fielding calls from the credit card company that sound like: “But I just sent you a payment. . . Oh, that went to the interest.” How can she dig herself out of this? Like the participants in Squid Game, Emily is burdened with debt. However, she isn’t being taken to an island to compete in violent games. One of her co-workers puts her in touch with a man named Youcef (Theo Rossi), who runs a ‘Dummy Shopping’ ring. She is sent to a store to buy merchandise with a fraudulent credit card and is paid a few hundred dollars for this. She is reluctant to participate at first but then does. (If she didn’t, this movie and review would be pretty short.)

She gets hooked. As Emily goes deeper into this world, she gets increasingly mixed up with people she may not necessarily want to be in cahoots with.

There is a commentary on how some people feel there is no option, so they turn to crime. Of course, there is always a choice, and this film shows that Emily feels she has no choice. In a way, the movie isn’t so much a commentary on today’s economic hardships as it is a story of what one person will do to survive, and Emily is a survivor.

The film also displays some exceptional acting by Aubrey Plaza. Yes, there is an entire cast, but the weight of this film lays on her shoulders. A little over halfway through the film, she has a performance-defining moment. You realize she isn’t to be trifled with, and there is no going back.

Similar to how Simon Baker (The Florida Project) shines a light on communities we usually don’t see reflected on screen, John Patton Ford has brought Emily the Criminal to us, not as a heroine but to show us what some will do to survive.

There is that old saying, you find a way, or you find an excuse, and Emily makes no excuses.

Grade: A-

Watch the movie trailer: