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emily the criminal

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‘Emily the Criminal’ review: The art of the credit card scam

That was easy.

It is only a surface level comparison, but detractors of the upcoming Saints Row reboot can learn a lot from watching Emily the Criminal. The upcoming game from Volition is about a group of young people who take up a life of crime to (in part) pay their college loans. For whatever reason, this has people up in arms about the game being about the manufactured problems of today’s youth.

Aubrey Plaza’s new vehicle is about a young woman named Emily Benetto who becomes involved in a credit card scam in order to take care of the debt accrued from art school. As she learns how much money she can make, she becomes more deeply involved. It is not long before the dangers of her new moneymaking endeavor show up.

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Emily the Criminal – and Saints Row – actually employ a longtime idea in the reluctant criminal story. Today, it is college debt; decades ago, the driving force was losing everything at the racetrack. Using debts racked up from secondary school is a modern twist on an old idea. Using credit cards further puts it in today’s world.

Writer-director John Patton Ford tries to differentiate his film by attempting to make it more of a character study. Plaza does a fine job, but there is not much to the eponymous character. Aside from having to pay off her bills, there is not much depth to Emily. The movie is interesting not because of Emily, but in spite of her. The premise is engaging by default – will she be able to get away with it? – but there is not a draw to the actual character.

This is in part due to how Emily the Criminal handles any conflict. After Emily’s first big purchase, there is a scene involving some great tension. Things are quickly resolved, thanks to Emily’s resolve. (Plaza does is excellent at getting across Emily’s “take no s--t” attitude.) This constantly happens and leads to diminishing returns regarding suspense. It is never a question of “if” Emily will succeed but “how”. The answer is usually in the quickest and least exciting way possible.

There is a built in story regarding the struggles today’s generation has to deal with that does offer some engaging moments. In a fantastic scene, an ill fated job interview provides a heated comparison of generational hardships. Emily the Criminal never explores the subject too deeply, however. Even the debt that is the driving force behind the plot only seems to be mentioned when it has to be.

Perhaps that is what Emily the Criminal is going for. By doing away with the over the top aspects of a heist film it becomes more grounded and relatable. The money issues do not have to be discussed because they are a constant in Emily’s life, the burden seen on her face and in her actions.

Emily the Criminal comes to theaters August 12

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