“You can’t make money any other way?” Emily the Criminal is one of the smartest films to debut at Sundance 2022. Produced by and starring the versatile Aubrey Plaza, Emily the Criminal showcases how far someone will go to clear themselves of personal debt — even if that means joining the dark underbelly of the scamming world.
Emily is a young woman struggling to land a career because of a past DUI. She makes minimum wage working for a catering company, but it’s hardly enough to chip away at her $70,000 in student loans debt, which constantly grows with interest charges. But when one of Emily’s coworkers tips her off to a job that can earn her $200 in an hour, her life begins to change.
What starts as a simple scam — using a fake ID and fraudulent credit card to purchase a flat-screen TV — turns into a whirlwind career for Emily, who partners with Theo Rossi’s Youcef in John Patton Ford’s timely heist thriller. Throughout Emily the Criminal, I found myself wondering if I should be rooting for Emily, whose moral compass is somewhat skewed. But the harmony between the role and Plaza’s performance makes it almost impossible not to root for her.
After discovering how sophisticated Youcef and his cousin Khalil’s (Jonathan Avigdori) operation is pretty sophisticated, Emily capitalizes on her ability to hustle and starts her own business. But as Emily’s criminal enterprise grows, so do the dangers coming her way.
Emily the Criminal reaches a climax just when it seems like Emily is going to hang up her hat and start making money honestly. But with Youcef’s dream of owning an apartment building and her mounting student debt, Emily goes all in. And even when Emily, who has developed a romantic relationship with her business partner throughout the film, leaves him for dead and takes the money, I still found myself rooting for her. Like Emily, I was just along for the thrill ride.