Imagine for a minute. You are working a minimum wage low-end catering job. You have about 70K in student debt and an opportunity arrives allowing you to make a decent amount of money per day. Are you in? Enter Emily, a mid-thirtysomething year old in a pressing predicament to take care of herself. She has major debt, and already has marks on her criminal record, causing job interviewers to question her integrity or dismiss her entirely. She lives in a small apartment with two other roommates, and she is looking for a better life. Fast. That isn’t unlike many other people in America, especially people living in large metropolitan cities, like Emily, where the cost of living is usually outrageous and can be incredibly stressful. One day, her coworker asks her to cover his shift at the catering job, and additionally gives her a mysterious phone number with the initials D.S. (Dummy Shopper) saying to call, and she could make $200.00 a day on the side.
Right from the start of this movie where we encounter Emily in an interview, and she is asked about her criminal record; I felt so compelled by Aubrey Plaza (Emily) in her way to convey emotion out of the audience. In my opinion, this must be one of her most serious, mesmerizing, and captivatingly interesting roles to date. The only one outside of the film Black Bear, which is also mind trip. The camera has this great job of zooming in at the right time, especially on a lot of her microexpressions. You really get this feeling of deep empathy for her character going through these intense life trials, and you really want to root for her to find her place in life financially. Megalyn Echikunwoke, who plays Emily’s friend Liz, is also rooting for Emily to succeed and is even there to help her get more interviews at her own place of employment.
The ability to make $200.00 dollars a day seemed too good to pass up for Emily, and we find her making her way to this dry-cleaning business front, where behind the scenes we learn early on, that they are using stolen credit cards and making purchases for large ticket items. Some of these items where big screen tv’s to sell in bulk. Youcef, played by Theo Rossi, plays a likeable criminal mastermind, who entices Emily who is among about 20 other people. This was illegal from the jump, but if they follow his rules, then nothing will happen to them, and they will get their money. Not only does Emily accept this job, but eventually finds out that Youcef will start paying more money for harder jobs, with the inclusion of buying cars with a no limit black card. Later, Youcef gives Emily the reins to start making her own credit cards, but is quick to remind her to only use a card at a store no more than once per week.
Emily quickly gets carried away in this whole credit card racket and runs into many twists and turns along the short 95-minute runtime. I wasn’t completely on the edge of my seat in stress and anxiety with this movie like in Uncut Gems with Adam Sandler, but there are some genuine emotionally stressful situations that Emily finds herself in. Again, Aubrey Plaza really sells this character, Emily, to the audience with her captivating dialogue and emotional facial expressions, and there was some genuine empathy for Theo Rossi’s brain of the operation.
Emily the Criminal is an easy recommendation for me to make, but I would say that if you hate anxiety inducing movies, maybe wait until you can find this on a streaming platform someday. The short journey was so focused, and I just couldn’t find myself taking the eyes of the screen. There wasn’t a lot of major side character development, but that doesn’t detract from the ride you will be on when you watch this film.
Review By: Dimitreus Newell