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By Fiona Bolzan

  The stunning independent film, Emily the Criminal, was released in theaters on August 12, 2022 and moved to Netflix on December 7. 

  The low-budget movie portrays a recent college graduate, Emily Benetto, played by Aubrey Plaza, struggling to find adequate work and pay off her student debt after dropping out of art school. 

  As she works a job delivering food, she searches for a career that will utilize her artistic skills, though she finds herself in increasing financial trouble. With few other options, she takes up an offer to become a “dummy shopper”, which is someone who makes purchases on stolen credit cards for profit. She faces increasing threats as she falls deeper into the circle of crime and ends up in situations she cannot escape. 

  The film dives deep into struggles facing many Americans today. Emily’s difficulties with paying off student debt are portrayed in a unique and genuine way. The audience follows her to her job that does not pay her enough and contrasts her lifestyle with her more successful friend. 

  Emily struggles to find a stable job because of her criminal record, which contains an aggravated assault conviction. The film keeps a lot of Emily’s past in the dark. While it is slowly revealed throughout the film, I felt some of her story left much to be desired. Her assault conviction was referenced many times through the film, however, the ultimate story behind it did not have a large impact on the plot or character and felt rushed. 

  The film takes place in Los Angeles, and the scenery is very drab and plain. Additionally, the characters wear very neutral clothing. These design aspects contribute to the authentic feel the film has. I felt I was watching real people deal with real problems. While the plot is quite bizarre, the way the movie is done creates a believable narrative. The film’s bland scenery, authentic characters, and slow burn plot adds to realism of the story. 

  The low-budget was obviously limiting for the creators and the movie was filmed over twenty-one days. However, the film still contains a few action scenes including car chases and fight sequences. These adrenaline-packed scenes keep the plot engaging and add to the suspense. The scenes are well executed and exceptional for a particularly low budget. 

  Plaza delivers an incredible performance as Emily. She began her acting career on Parks and Recreation, but has been entering more serious roles, including her Golden Globe-nominated performance in White Lotus. As Emily, she embodies the complicated character and her wide range of emotions. Plaza has already been nominated for multiple awards for this performance including the Gotham Awards Outstanding Lead Performance and the Independent Spirit Awards Best Lead Performance. The film also features Theo Rossi and Bernardo Badillo, who both deliver exceptional performances. 

  Emily the Criminal currently has a 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and critics are loving it. Overall, the acting, directing, and writing were all excellent and I thoroughly enjoyed the film.