Catching Up With The Films of 2022: Emily The Criminal (dir by John Patton Ford)

An hour or so into Emily the Criminal, there’s a scene in which Emily (Aubrey Plaza) goes to what she thinks is a job interview with a prestigious ad agency.  For the second time in the film, Emily is forced to tell a potential employer that she has a felony conviction.  In this case, it doesn’t seem to matter.  Alice (Gina Gershon), the head of the agency, explains that she is looking for an intern to work in the design department.

Emily asks if Alice is asking her to take an unpaid internship.

Alice replies that everyone starts as an intern and that, if they do a great job, they might get a paid position in five to six months.

Emily asks how Alice can expect anyone to work regular hours without getting paid.

Alice replies that Emily will paid in experience.  “When I began in this industry,” Alice says, “I have no intention of just being a secretary….”

“But secretaries get paid!” Emily snaps.

Alice replies with an obviously well-rehearsed anecdote about how, when she started, there were no women in the executive office.  When Emily cuts her off again, Alice drops the Pelosiesque facade and accuses Emily of being spoiled.  When Emily tells her off before storming out of the office, you’ll want to cheer.  It doesn’t matter how you may feel about some of Emily’s earlier life decisions or Emily as a person.  When Emily calls out Alice for expecting people to work for free, you will totally be on Emily’s side.

You’ll also understand why Emily would chose to be, as the title makes clear, a criminal.

When we first meet Emily, she is a part of the gig economy, delivering food for a catering company.  There was a time when she dreamed of becoming a professional artist and living in South America.  Now, she’s just trying to figure out how to pay the huge amount of student loan debt that she owes, despite the fact that she never graduated from college.  When she learns of an opportunity to make $200 in one hour, she takes it.  As Youcef (Theo Rossi) explains it, all she has to do is use a fake credit card to buy a flat-screen TV so that Youcef and his associates can then sell it.  (In a nice bit of irony, it later turns out that Youcef is basically an unpaid intern for his cousin.)  After her first job is a success, Youcef starts to trust Emily with making bigger and riskier purchases.  Soon, Emily is making her own fake credit cards and running her own scams.  She’s still an independent contractor but now she’s making a lot more money.

Emily the Criminal takes a matter-of-fact approach to Emily’s activities.  There’s none of the condemnation that one might expect as the result of having seen other movies and, regardless of how dangerous things get for her, there’s never a moment where Emily herself reconsiders whether or not she wants to be a criminal.  The film doesn’t necessarily celebrate criminality but it does ask why Emily should care about the rules of society that obviously doesn’t care about her.  If Emily remains law-abiding, she’ll be stuck in a demeaning job and she’ll never pay off her debts, which means that she’ll just become a criminal by default.  (And, let’s be honest, we all know that all the talk about canceling student debt is just something that gets trotted out during an election year.  We’ll hear it again in 2024 and again, nothing will happen.)  As a criminal, the only risk is that Emily could be arrested or attacked by another criminal but, as the film makes clear from the start, Emily already has a criminal record so what’s one more charge?  As for being attacked, Emily continually proves herself to be tougher and far more ruthless than the other criminals around her.  Alice might brag about how she’s found success in an industry dominated by men but Emily actually does it.

Emily the Criminal is a relentlessly-paced journey through the shadows of the gig economy, a world where the only law is that everyone is looking out for themselves.  Aubrey Plaza gives a career best performance as Emily, playing her as someone who not only turns out to have a natural talent for being a criminal but who occasionally shocks herself with how ruthless she can be.  Emily may be a criminal but its hard to judge her.  It’s just a job.

3 responses to “Catching Up With The Films of 2022: Emily The Criminal (dir by John Patton Ford)

  1. Pingback: Lisa Marie’s Week In Review: 1/2/23 — 1/8/23 | Through the Shattered Lens

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