Emily the Criminal

Emily the Criminal ★★★★½

Sundance 2022: Movie #9

“Emily the Teacher, Emily the Mother… Emily the Something.”

Part of the cruelty of the carceral system is that being labeled a criminal stays with someone for their entire life. Regardless of how much time passes after what offense was committed, the label remains, and everyone will know about it. People are kept out of jobs, housing, and countless other opportunities that would greatly improve their lives. When the world becomes limited, survival becomes harder, too. For Emily, her past convictions keep her stuck in a rapidly growing debt. She can’t afford to take the jobs that would one day lead to a career, and the low-wages of her catering job will never amount to enough to pay what’s owed. Financial exploitation occurs in every setting, so Emily may as well do the one job that pays well enough to buy her freedom. 

Emily the Criminal is thrilling. It’s stressful from its opening moments, and the stakes just rise from there. It surprises moment to moment, and the dialogue within every scene is as gripping as the more violent outbursts. Insights on class and legality are expressed through genuinely tense sequences, allowing the film to entertain while remaining thematically valuable. You worry for Emily, simply wanting her to find a way out of this dangerous circumstance, even if what she’s doing is “wrong.” Her crimes feel so small in comparison to the everyday exploitation around her. Everything here is so intelligently exciting, and it’s Aubrey Plaza’s bold, furious performance in the titular role that sells just how real the situation is.

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