Yoda said once “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.” The Emily is this movie would basically say shut up you old, green b*tch and tase the bejesus out of him because he didn’t approve of her life choices. Emily the Criminal pulls no punches in showing how slowly the dark path can envelop every fiber of your being, and how sadly easy it is to find yourself there in the first place.
April Ludgate herself Aubrey Plaza is at the start of the movie Emily the Criminal. Her crime? DUI in her early teens. But those felony charges have to be reported at EVERY job interview, especially the high paying ones, which Emily simply can’t get anymore. Stuck in a small apartment with a food delivery contractor salary and $70K in student loans, Emily is desperate for…something. Fate throws her a bone when a work colleague gives her a strange number to text. This leads her to Youcef (Theo Rossi), Khalil (Jonathan Avigdori), and what is clearly an illegal underground laundering scheme. With even her best friend Liz (Megalyn Echikunwoke) unable to help, Emily falls deeper and deeper into Youcef’s schemes…which also land her heftier and heftier payouts.
Rules. Society has rules that someone like wanna be white collar Emily has to follow to be accepted. Because of youthful mistakes, she doesn’t follow those rules, and is forced to relive the consequences via condescending hiring managers, treating Emily like the naive, untrustworthy, “lazy” 17 year old her record only sees her as. Emily takes it as best she can, but after so many disappointments at some point she snaps back, which makes her look even worse in the world she went to school for, to be a part of. Living paycheck to paycheck, she has to live out her mistake via Liz all the time too, a walking emblem of the “what if” of what her life could have become. The only hang ons she has are promises of “when we hire more people” or “just take one more shift,” hollow and empty promises that mean nothing to Emily at this point. Living a life as a never-ending series of disappointments? Of course that makes someone like Emily desperate enough to break more rules.
What John Patton Ford and Aubrey Plaza so brilliantly show is that Emily has this tug of war inside of her like any normal person. She wants to live by the rules, but the only way she can succeed because of her past is if she embraces the darker parts of her personality. In reality, Theo Rossi’s Youcef might have been better suited in Emily’s dream life. Rossi disarms the audience slowly, showing Youcef as Emily’s criminal soul mate, trapped in a life he doesn’t want to lead but is forced to. Emily on the other hand, grows scarier and much more threatening the more she learns and grows from her criminal experiences. Yes its more physically scary to Emily than anything else, but in the fight or flight mentality, she chooses fight everytime, making her a perfect person for the underworld, as long as she doesn’t get killed along the way. It becomes pretty clear how the tug of war is going to go in Emily the Criminal, but the movie smartly never judges Emily for her choices, instead showing a series of small, escalating decisions lead her to where she ends up.
It’s kind of funny piecing Aubrey Plaza’s characters into Emily the Criminal, because it weirdly fits. Think about it: she sexually experiments in the To-Do List, only to end up with Chris Pratt in Indiana for a few years. She probably then leaves him and goes adrift, getting turned down by Mackenzie Davis around Christmastime, which makes her snap, commit a crime or two, and end up at the start of this film. This is my means of saying Aubrey Plaza is playing 6 dimensional chess with her career, and smartly picked out her next project based on how Emily the Criminal ends. Bravo!