Emily Benetto just wants to be an artist. But the luxury of being an artist in the modern world is not something everyone can afford. So, if Emily cannot afford to become something that she has always dreamt of becoming, then what will she become? Her decision to choose art may have been influenced by her passion during her teenage years, which may have persuaded her to enroll herself in a prestigious college. She took out some student loans to pay the fees and was willing to take the risk for the sake of arts. But then a tragedy took place because of which Emily was not able to finish college. She is a passionate painter, but without a degree, she fails to get a job as an artist. That is the irony of her life. John Patton Ford’s film “Emily the Criminal” thematically explores these ironies through the story of its protagonist. The narrative also portrays the various hardships, rejections, and feelings of discontent that push an artist off the edge and force them to do things in life that may not be morally correct but eventually become necessary for survival. So, without any further ado, let’s examine the point of transformation in Emily’s life that turned her into a criminal from a struggling artist.
‘Emily the Criminal’ Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?
Emily Benetto, who hails from New Jersey, went to HBS for her arts degree. However, in 2016, an inevitable incident happened, after which she had to drop out of college. She was in a relationship with a boy that probably turned toxic, and once, during an argument, Emily hit him, after which he reported her to the police. Emily was convicted of aggravated assault and had a huge student loan and legal fees ahead, along with a grandmother who needed support. Due to these circumstances, Emily didn’t go back to college and decided to work instead to pay the bills. She came to Los Angeles with the dream of getting a job in the arts industry, but unlike her childhood friend, Liz, Emily never got that lucky. Liz used to work in an ad agency and was living the life that Emily yearned for. Emily believed that Liz would arrange an interview at her company, which was her last hope of making her way into the field.
To survive in LA, Emily works as a part-time delivery person for a catering company and lives in a shared apartment to save some money. She eagerly fills in for interviews in various firms, but wherever she walks in, her past conviction is questioned, and that spoils her prospects of getting a job. As the film begins, Emily has some 70 thousand dollars of student debt to pay off, and that becomes her reason to do more odd jobs to get the loan off her head. In this time of need, a coworker named Javier Santos informs her about a job through which she can earn $200 for working as a Dummy Shopper. Emily, with a bit of hesitation, contacts these shady clients and visits their shop, where she meets Lebanese brothers Youcef and Khalil Haddad. The younger brother, Youcef, informs the new batch of employees about their credit card fraud scheme, where the dummy shoppers have to use the fake credit card that Youcef has designed to buy equipment from the supermarket, which they later sell on the black market.
Emily slowly becomes a part of Youcef’s ring and starts creating fake credit cards on her own, thereby earning a considerable amount of money through which she is able to pay off a part of her debts. However, until the very end, Emily considers this a side hustle until she gets a real job as an artist, but that day never comes, thereby finally turning Emily into a criminal from which there is no turning back.
How Did Emily Turn Into A Criminal?
Youcef had asked Emily to purchase a luxury car from some buyers with the help of a fake credit card and had warned her that she had to walk out of their office in 8 minutes or they would discover the fraud. While Emily was about to drive out of their parking lot, the owner discovered that Emily had used a fake credit card, so he tried to stop her and hit her in the face. Here, Emily had finished the dangerous job, but looking at her bruised face, Youcef had to ask if she could make money the other way. The scene briefly underlines the conflict in Emily’s life that is evidently created by her circumstances. She wants to be an artist but cannot afford to struggle. She is quite a nice painter, but no one wants to hire her because of her conviction (of which she may or may not be guilty entirely). However, unlike Youcef, who wants to buy a property with this fraud money, Emily just wants to get rid of her student debts so that she can either go back to some community college and finish her education or be able to struggle for her passion without the weight of any such debt troubling her mind.
Youcef’s brother, Khalil, got quite envious of Youcef’s romantic inclination towards Emily and could very well perceive Emily’s greed to get a huge amount of money in a short time. Emily was unintentionally putting the brothers at risk, and so Khalil decided to betray his brother. In Youcef’s version of the story, we get to know that Khalil refused to pay Youcef, because of which he was not able to pay the down payment for the apartment. Soon after this, Youcef convinced Emily to clean up the cash from their office, bank accounts, and storage units. Youcef’s decision to steal from his brother was a direct declaration of war, but Emily wasn’t ready to jump into the world of crime without thinking about its consequences. It was a point of no return, and Emily needed a push to walk forward. The very next day, she had an interview at Liz’s ad agency, where her boss offered her an unpaid internship for 6 months before paying her anything for her efforts. For an artist struggling with a massive student loan and surviving all alone in LA, a job without any pay meant a literal death sentence. Emily’s anger at that time gave her the push she needed to change from an artist to a criminal.
‘Emily The Criminal’ Ending Explained: What Happened To Emily, Khalil, And Youcef?
Khalil had already cleared out the cash from the office, and other places before Emily and Youcef could steal it from him. Hence, with no other option, Emily persuaded Youcef to confront Khalil, who was hiding in a safe house in Santa Clarita with some Armenian thugs. Emily and Youcef tricked the goons and later went after Khalil in the bedroom, where he attacked Youcef and tried to kill Emily. However, Emily pulled out a cutter knife from her pocket and stabbed Khalil in the stomach. At this point, she tried to threaten Khalil to tell her about the cash he had stolen from the office and the bank accounts, but for a moment, Khalil denied stealing any cash. Here, it could be speculated that it was Youcef who cleared out the cash from the bank account and later blamed it all on Khalil so that Emily would help him steal from his own brother. He might have had a sinister plan to cheat Emily, too, after the robbery, but it turned out fate wasn’t on his side this time.
Khalil revealed to Emily that there was some cash in the fridge (though he never said that it was the same cash that he had stolen from his brother). Emily quickly took the bag filled with cash and decided to leave it with Youcef. She brought a bleeding Youcef to his car but couldn’t find his car keys. Emily panicked as she heard the sirens in the vicinity and therefore decided to take the cash and leave Youcef behind. The next day, the LAPD raided her apartment only to find out that she had disappeared.
The closing sequence of “Emily the Criminal” doesn’t reveal to us the fate of the two brothers. However, it does take us to another country, probably South America, where Emily now lives a free life. At one point in the film, Youcef asks Emily about what she would do if she had some money. She told him that the first thing she would do was pay off her debts (which we don’t think she would be able to do considering her situation in the climax). However, during the same sequence, she tells Youcef that she just wants to be free and experience things and live in another country for a while. She had a long list, and probably Emily was ticking it off one by one. Later, in the closing sequence, we find her painting once again without the burden of her debt. However, painting has probably become her side hustle or maybe a hobby, and eventually, her side hustle has become her full-time job. In the closing shot, we see Emily sitting in front of a group of people and instructing them about the credit card fraud that they are about to commit. Emily has not just swapped places with Youcef symbolically, but she has also become a full-time criminal, where there is little scope for an artist to survive. It only shows us that, once again, greed triumphs over art in the end.
“Emily the Criminal” is a 2022 Drama Thriller film directed by John Patton Ford.