Emily the Criminal
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Synopsis: Emily, who is saddled with student debt and locked out of the job market due to a minor criminal record, gets involved in a credit card scam that pulls her into the criminal underworld of Los Angeles, ultimately leading to deadly consequences.
I have become enamored with stress-filled type of movies in the last few years. It started with Uncut Gems, and recently I have watched Black Bear and Good Time, and found myself drawn into the chaos and madness of these slice of life pressure cookers. There is are two through lines for these films the Safdie Brothers (Josh and Benny) and Aubrey Plaza. So I am predisposed to like this film because I am all in on Aubrey Plaza and the tone from the initial trailer felt like it was going to align into my new found love of uncomfortable, stressful films.
The premise of the film is pretty straight forward Emily Benetto is saddled with student debt from her time at art school, can’t even pay enough monthly to chip into the principal. She has a criminal record, that is the subject of an early scene where she is applying for a job that is a step up from her current job delivering food to corporate events. In this scene we are dropped into the early portions of Emily interviewing for a job, and being asked about her criminal record where she tries to downplay the crime and is caught lying when the interviewer springs a full background check on her. Watching the full range of emotions run across Aubrey Plaza’s face is a precursory to the rest of this film, she so fully encapsulates: shame, frustration, despondency, anger and eventually seething rage by being deceived and the interviewer trying to “catch her”.
Eventually Emily finds her way to a warehouse under the promise that she can make $200 in the next hour. This leads to the introduction of Youcef played by Theo Rossi, who calmly explains the low level crime that you will have to complete to get paid, a basic dummy purchase using stolen credit cards and they are making IDs to match the identity of the people in the warehouse. Theo the actor is eminently charming and I have really loved his work all the way back to Sons of Anarchy, where his tough and empathetic persona seems to have been solidified. After a successful purchase of a television and handoff for payment there is an offer to come back tomorrow for a larger payment.
The movie’s pressure cooker really engages in the next set piece but there is one scene I really want to call out, Emily is selling stolen goods and lets her guard down and sells from the area that is where she lives. This misstep leads to one of the most harrowing scenes I have seen in years. From the brutality of the buyer, to the sheer terror that Aubrey Plaza conveys, to the eventual rage and anger that Emily feels to the stoic and calm conclusion of the scene.
This is a film that was a showcase for Aubrey Plaza, proving not only she is one of the actor’s to watch over the next 10-15 years but I would say has positioned her as an actor you can rely on to open a film and carry a production on her eminently capable and supremely talented shoulders. If you get a chance to see Emily the Criminal in a theater do yourself a favor, you will join the chorus of movie goers that will talk about the film that Aubrey Plaza should have been nominated for best actress.