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To acquire wisdom, one must observe

‘Emily the Criminal’ is the everyman’s crime thriller

Quietly released on Netflix after premiering primarily on the film festival circuit, “Emily the Criminal” is an uncomplicated crime thriller elevated through its quality emotional beats and well-done societal commentary. With a runtime of 93 minutes and a lack of excessive violence or explicit sex, it is an easy watch that could be enjoyed by any adult audience. 

The titular Emily (Aubrey Plaza), is an art school dropout with $70,000 in student loan debt. Because of a past felony conviction, she struggles to find work. After a colleague points her toward a less-than-legal organization offering $200 for an afternoon of work, Emily finds her calling, and a new friend, in organized crime.

The heart of this film is the relationship between Emily and her new friend, Yussef (Theo Rossi). Their part mentorship part romantic dynamic provides something to root for in an otherwise dark immoral story. Emily is a serious, hot-headed, goal-oriented character, Yussef softens her and supports her even when he probably shouldn’t. Plus it is a genuinely cute love story. They have great chemistry and their relationship seems healthy despite everything. When they spend time together, it allows the movie to take a deep breath and chill for a bit. Their relationship is also crucial to the plot and message of the film.

This is a simple movie. That is not meant to hold any inherent connotation, but it is an important aspect of “Emily the Criminal.” It is a single-minded film following a single-minded character. Emily wants money, she does not like being lied to and she is not afraid to be violent. The movie does not stop to examine why she is this way. Nor does it make her question her morality or second guess herself. That is what she is like and the rather short story this movie captures does not show a time of growth or prosperity. At the end of the day, it is Emily learning and mastering a new trade. Anything else that happens is there to fill out the world or signify exactly how far Emily is willing to go to meet her end goal of financial freedom.

And the simplicity does not stop at the plot. The camera work and lighting in this movie, which if observed closely are quite beautiful, have absolutely no pretension. Everything looks grounded. The viewer is shown the most important thing happening on screen, without any overt stylistic editing. The movie is fast-paced to keep the tension of a crime thriller, but it isn’t rushed or obnoxious.  Similarly, the usage of music is very minimal, when it is present, it blends into the background.

All of this serves to create a rather realistic film. Which is needed given its message. The story of a down-on-their-luck individual turning to a life of crime, and finding love along the way, has been done before. But you don’t see yourself in a movie like “Baby Driver.” Aesthetics and excitement take priority. “Emily the Criminal” shows a life that anyone, with the right amount of cynicism, could live. Emily’s life has no artistic symmetry or poetic justice. It is stressful, annoying and uncomfortable most of the time. She is trying to pay off her student loans through a gig job where she is treated poorly. She gets a great opportunity at a job but it’s an unpaid internship so she can’t take it. She is repeatedly robbed and threatened. The only thing that makes her story different than anyone else’s is how she responds, which is in awesome ways.

While I have been largely spitting praise, it must be noted that this is not some perfect film. It does not have many flaws but it also does not really have anything special about it. It is a middle-of-the-road, inoffensive movie that gains my admiration for never being boring and not reminding me directly of any other film. Also, I hate the ending.



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