The Movie Waffler New to Netflix - EMILY THE CRIMINAL | The Movie Waffler


A desperate young woman turns to credit card fraud to pay her college debt.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: John Patton Ford

Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Theo Rossi, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Gina Gershon, Jonathan Avigdori

emily the criminal poster

Aubrey Plaza delivers a to-date career defining performance in writer/director John Patton Ford's feature debut Emily the Criminal. Approaching 40, Plaza still finds herself cast as women in their mid-twenties and is still thoroughly convincing as such. We never once question whether she's too old to be playing the recent college graduate Emily, and any world weariness Plaza might bring fits right in with a character struggling just to survive.

emily the criminal review

Having studied Graphic Design, Emily now finds herself straddled with college debt to the tune of $70,000. Her job as a delivery driver for a busy Los Angeles restaurant is barely covering the interest on her loan. Any attempts at career advancement are stunted by a charge of aggravated assault on her criminal record. When a co-worker gives her a phone number and tells her she can make $200 in an hour, Emily is understandably intrigued.

Calling the number, Emily is directed to a warehouse in the suburbs. It looks suspiciously like the set of a porn movie, so she grips her pepper spray tightly. Turns out Emily really can make $200 in an hour though, as she's stumbled upon a major credit card fraud operation run by Lebanese cousins Youcef (Theo Rossi) and Khalil (Jonathan Avigdori), who operate a sort of good criminal/bad criminal dynamic towards their employees. Emily is tasked with purchasing a big screen TV on a cloned credit card and returning it to the warehouse, where she is promptly given $200 in cash. When Youcef tells her she can make $2,000 for something a little more dangerous, Emily can't resist.

emily the criminal review

Classic films noir often feature the figure of the femme fatale, the dangerously seductive woman who causes a world of hurt for the male protagonist. We usually meet them fully formed, having gone through some off screen ordeal that turned them into a cold-hearted sociopath. Emily the Criminal plays like the origin story of a classic femme fatale, and whenever they get around to making the inevitable gritty Catwoman reboot, you could imagine her arc being similar to that of Emily's. By the final act of the movie, Emily is a full-blown femme fatale, and she's seduced Youcef into entering her web. The poor sucker can't resist her charm and teaches her the tricks of his dubious profession. Emily proves herself more capable than Youcef himself, and quickly grows a thick skin when she realises the sort of dangers a life of crime brings. The script asks us to buy this transformation a little too quickly (it's a rare movie that feels 30 minutes too short), but Plaza manages to convince as both the naïve waif we meet at the beginning of the movie and the violent sociopath she ultimately becomes.

emily the criminal review

There's a popular debate online regarding whether movies should portray bad behaviour. Of course they should, and let's face it, one of the great thrills of cinema is being able to live a vicarious life of crime. Who among us hasn't fantasised about quitting a soul destroying 9 to 5 job for a life of "easy money." With his debut, Ford taps into the stress and frustration of a generation that increasingly seems denied the certainties granted their parents. At times this is portrayed a little crudely, like Emily's on-the-nose interview for a position that turns out to be an unpaid internship, but it's tapping into a very real phenomena with plenty of stories similar to Emily's to be found in real life as college graduates take desperate measures to prevent themselves drowning in debt. A significant portion of the audience for Emily the Criminal will be rooting for the titular anti-hero all the way.

Emily the Criminal is on Netflix UK/ROI now.