How far would you go to pay off student loans? In Emily the Criminal, director and writer John Patton Ford crafts a suspenseful tale about a young woman who is unable to pay off her massive student loans due to high interest rates and an assault charge that walls her off from being able to secure an entry-level professional job.
Emily Benetto (Aubrey Plaza) is in need of more money than her catering salary provides, so she takes on a gig of being a ‘Dummy Shopper’, buying expensive goods ranging from televisions to new cars on stolen credit cards and selling them for profit. She receives training from the handsome fraud expert Youcef (Theo Rossi), and the two scheme to take their scam to new heights.
Youcef plays the role of mentor and eventual partner for Emily in the world of credit card fraud. The film doesn’t take the time to convince the audience that Youcef and Emily— a pair of criminals with morals that are ambiguous at best—are worth rooting for. They have desires to overcome their situations and the drive to work for what they want. The urgency of their situations is palpable throughout the film, and as the stakes rise with each scene, Emily and Youcef become more complex.
In the opening of the film, a potential employer asks Emily about her record, claiming to have no knowledge of her background. Emily lies about her past and the employer catches her in the lie, revealing that he actually does know the details of her criminal history. Feeling deceived, Emily flips out and storms out of the interview. Immediately, audiences are clued into the fact that there is more to Emily Benetto than meets the eye. She’s a woman trying to come off as casual and relaxed, but there is a temper within her that’s waiting to be released.
Plaza is brilliantly cast in the role of Emily. The actress, who is most known for her comedic work, radiates a dark sense of power in this anti-hero role. She captures a down on her luck woman with a streak of rage underneath the surface in a nuanced way that highlights Emily’s flaws and the social barriers that push against her.
Emily the Criminal is not for the faint of heart. The action sequences range from nail biting to horrifying, leaving viewers to shift uncomfortably in their seats as they watch the violence play out. Don’t expect this gritty, suspenseful film to take viewers on an easy ride. Plaza’s performance keeps the viewer guessing the entire time how far Emly Benetto is willing to go.
It’s impossible to not feel how topical Emily the Criminal is in today’s world. With Biden’s recent announcement about student loan forgiveness, the extremely high prices of a college education are on the minds of many Americans. The film does not forget to remind audiences that Emily is a criminal because she can’t pay off her loans and is locked out of getting a job in the professional world. Today, an estimated 44 million Americans owe money for their education. In a society where college is marketed as the path to success, Emily the Criminal turns the myth of a college education equating professional success on its head.The film has been well received by many reviewers, becoming “Certified Fresh” with a 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and many critics praising Plaza’s performance. Emily the Criminal has completed its run in theaters and will hopefully be available on streaming services soon.
Julia Dath is a Senior Writing major who enjoys shopping and is looking for a way to pay off student loans. They can be reached at [email protected].