Emily the Criminal

Emily the Criminal ★★★★½

Review by Kate Erbland

On the occasion of their second meeting, Youcef (Theo Rossi) asks Emily (Aubrey Plaza) the question on everyone’s mind: “You can’t make money another way?” Emily, a one-time art student trapped in a series of dead-end jobs because of her criminal past and growing debt, is bruised and bleeding, breathless from pulling off a daring (and maybe even dumb) crime for Youcef, and can only fire back, “You can’t make another way?” Well, no, neither of them can, and in John Patton Ford’s tense and timely heist thriller, that realization pushes Plaza into her best performance yet.

As the eponymous antihero at the heart of Ford’s film — his feature debut after first earning accolades at Sundance over a decade ago for the lauded short “Patrol” — Plaza continues to build on her post-“Parks and Recreation” career with serious style. Thanks to turns in projects as varied as “Black Bear,” “Ingrid Goes West,” and “Happiest Season,” Plaza (who also produced Ford’s film, adding to a growing resume) has managed to turn her pitch-black sarcasm into something with real depth and nuance. You always know a Plaza performance will be good, but over the past few years, Plaza has seemed to make it a priority to surprise her audiences with just how good she is.