Aubrey Plaza is one of those actresses who seems to be the go-to actress whenever you need a quirky. no-nonsense, sarcastic woman who’s not afraid of being liked by everyone. Her and Mary Elizabeth Winstead could be fraternal twins with Winstead being Homecoming Queen popular cheearleader and Plaza the sexy band marching band geek. She’s appeared on TV shows like Parks and Recreation, where her role was written specifically for her because she was called the “weirdest girl I’ve ever met.”
She has mostly played that character in many movies and TV roles. She even voiced Grumpy Cat in that Christmas movie. Remember the Grumpy Cat TV movie? You probably don’t but she added her own style to the role, even if the movie was awful. So, in a movie like Emily the Criminal, you’re expecting some quirky black comedy about a woman who gets involved in a credit card scheme.
But that’s not actually the case. This is a straight gritty crime drama about a down on her luck 30-something Emily Benetto who is living in the L.A. area in an apartment she shares with people she barely speaks to and wants to ignore. She had a felony conviction for assault. We never find out why, but she also had a DUI on her record. Like most people her age in real life, It seems that she can’t get ahead and is just barely surviving.
When the movie opens, she’s at a job interview that goes south the minute the interviewer tries to embarrass her with the criminal nformation. But Emily isn’t going to sit there and cower. She gets on the offensive which causes the interviewer to cancel the meeting once he realizes he’s lost control. John Patton Ford is obviously targeting Boomers as character actor John Billingsley, who plays the interviewer, is in his 60s.
In a later interview with Alice (Gina Gershon), the boss of a friend, she also goes on the offensive very quick when Alice tries to entice her with a six-month unpaid internship at her company that could lead to a full-time paid position. When Emily questions being asked to work for nothing, Alice tries to say that at one time, the only roles she was being offered were for secretaries. But when Emily says they were paying secretaries, Alice cuts the interview short as well.
Emily is like many Millennials. She’s is debt by about $60,000 in student loans and being railroaded because she’s told she’s only paying the interest even when she makes a $400 payment. Her friend, Liz (Megalyn Echikunwoke), has a high paying job in her field and gets to go to Portugal for 11 days. Emily had to leave college for a family emergency and with the criminal history can’t get a job, so she works as an independent contractor for a catery company while she sets up lasagana dishes in office where business women in pants suit wait eagerly for her to leave. And her supervisor can get cut hours anytime he wants.
One day, a colleague, Javier (Bernando Badillo), tells her of a way to make a few hundred dollars. But she finds out that it’s a credit card scam for her to be a “dummy shopper.” She will go to an electronics store and buy a high-price TV with the fake credit card and return it so a black market ring run by a Lebanon family can sell it for a huge profit. She gets $200 but one of the workers, Youcef Haddad (Theo Rossi), says she can make more money on another job.
She takes the offer after some double-thinking but it involves her using a fake cashier’s check and credit card to purchase a sports car from some Armenian dealers. And it goes bad as Emily gets away with the car but a bloodied nose in a scuffle. Seeing what happen, Youcef takes sympathy on her and they soon begin to know each other more and begin a relationship.
Youcef also shows her how to do the credit card scheme but he tells her don’t visit the same store once a week. Very soon, she is selling her own stolen items on the black market. When a deal goes bad, Emily doesn’t cower, she fights back. Emily is obviously someone who you don’t want to mess with. Litte is said about her past except the criminal convictions and a conversation with Liz about not going back to New Jersey where she’s from. My guess is there’s a lot of bad things that happened in New Jersey that made Emily decide she wasn’t going to be the victim.
Plaza plays the character so well that I wouldn’t be surprised if she got an Oscar nomination. This is one of those career-changing roles where people start looking at an actor differently. She might be one of the weirdest girls ever but that doesn’t mean she has to be stuck playing the weird, quirky girl roles. She’s not Zoe Kazan or worse, Zooey Deschanel, locked into playing the same character over and over.
But the movie also shows how crime is committed by people who are desparate. Emily got a DUI because she was stopped driving with people who were drunker than she. And even the assault charge could’ve been a fight with a former boyfriend or a family member that went bad. Emily isn’t really a bad person. She just has a lot of things keeping her from getting a better job.
A lot of Boomers and conservatives want to say that “no one wants to work anymore.” Well, people like Emily aren’t working, they’re barely surviving. How many men or more affluent people have DUI and assault charges but are able to get job because someone owes someone else a favor? Who is Emily really ripping off? Stores that won’t hire her and exploit their own workers.
While I could’ve done without the Emily/Youcef subplot, I think it shows that some people commit crimes but can still be better people. It’s like the old question – If someone robs bread to feed their family, is it still stealing. TV sets are made for pennies on the dollar with labor and car companies are looking to cheat the workers out. Corporation are stealing from us. But two wrongs don’t make a right.
What do you think? Please comment.