Emily the Criminal is a departure for Aubrey Plaza. She’s ready and willing to go to the dark side in this film. Playing this part takes her beyond anything she’s done before. She’s really good as the steely-nerved, tough Emily.
Emily the Criminal begins with her looking for a better job than the food delivery work she’s doing. She has $70,000 in student debt for the art school she never finished. She has an assault charge and a DUI on her record. Nobody will hire her. Things are not going well for her.
Emily represents so much of what’s wrong with contemporary life. Bad jobs that don’t pay a living wage, crippling student debt, few chances to improve hard situations, and no good choices.
Her co-worker Javier (Bernardo Badillo) asks her to take a gig for him. He calls it “dummy shopper.” She can make $200 in just one hour. She goes to investigate.
She finds herself in a warehouse filled with rough looking men. And herself. Youcef (Theo Rossi) introduces himself and says they can make $200 in an hour but what they will do is illegal. It’s safe, but illegal. He invites people to leave if they aren’t interested. Emily stays.
Youcef is running a credit card scam. He has good credit card numbers that he puts on fake cards. He creates fake drivers licenses with the faces of his dummy shoppers to match the names on the cards. They go in a big box store, buy an expensive TV with the card, and give the TV to Youcef for the $200 cash.
Emily meets with her old friend Liz (Megalyn Echikunwoke) who keeps promising to help her find a legit job at an ad agency. She keeps at her food delivery work. But she wants more of the credit card fraud work.
Youcef sends her on a more dangerous job – buying a car. He’ll pay her $2000 for that if she gets away with it. She almost doesn’t, but we see that she has the moxie to pull it off.
Emily wants in on the deal with Youcef. She’s attracted to him. He shows her how to make the fake cards, he opens up to her about his family and his dreams.
As Emily goes deeper into the criminal world she does dumb things, makes mistakes. She almost gets killed. She’s not going to take abuse from anyone and goes after the people who hurt her. She’s dangerous and she’s determined.
The climactic scene in the third act is a struggle where people get hurt and we see Emily make choices that show how far she’s gone into the criminal mindset. A brief coda at the end of the film shows how Emily intends to use her new knowledge and skills.
Emily’s descent from hard-working and honest to brutal and criminal is so well done. John Patton Ford wrote and directed the film. Casting Aubrey Plaza was a bold choice and she proved to be perfect in the role. It certainly expands what I think we will be seeing her do in the future, although I’ll always love her deadpan comedy chops.
Everything about the film was excellent. Well written and directed, well shot, and excellent performances all around. I give it high ratings.
You can see the film on Netflix.