Is Emily the Criminal Based on a True Story?

‘Emily the Criminal’ is an indie crime thriller movie that marks John Patton Ford’s debut as a feature film director. It follows the titular character, looking for a job to repay her student loan. However, due to a minor criminal record, Emily (Aubrey Plaza) cannot get good work, and her situation worsens. In a desperate attempt to make easy money, she gets into the illegal business of dummy shopping and goes down a dark path that changes her life forever.

‘Emily the Criminal’ is an intriguing story that depicts how adversities like student loans can push people to take extreme actions. The film portrays Emily as a victim of the system who is lonely and helpless. While the cast performances and the overall setting are authentic, the various scenes involving violence, theft, and fraud seem grounded in reality. These narrative aspects make us wonder if ‘Emily the Criminal’ is based on an actual incident. Well, let us find out, shall we?

Is Emily the Criminal a True Story?

‘Emily the Criminal’ is partially based on a true story. Though it is primarily fictional, it is inspired by the life of director John Patton Ford, who also wrote the script. He wanted to tell a story synonymous with certain aspects of his life. In an interview with Collider, John said, “I’m a big believer that the kind of movie you make is kind of a thesis about whatever your life is at that moment.”

The filmmaker elaborated on this idea while speaking to HeyUGuys and said, “I think we all have desires that we’re not able to act upon because society doesn’t really allow it. So it’s really satisfying to watch someone else act upon those things so we can live vicariously through them.” Interestingly, John’s real-life situation mirrors Emily’s in the movie in numerous ways. The latter is an artist who attends college and falls into a heavy debt of over $70,000. Hence, she tries to apply for jobs vastly different from her core skills to repay the loan.

Throughout the movie, Emily is anxious, and the debt becomes a mental burden she carries everywhere. Overall, her career seems to be going nowhere, whether as an artist or professional. Likewise, John comes from a similar background. In an interview with ScreenSlam, he said, “I went to grad school and got into a tremendous amount of debt. I felt a lot of anxiety afterward, not being able to find very good work and the cost of living being so expensive.”

John further highlighted how numerous other people in the US feel the same way and have similar problems. Hence, he decided to make a movie around the subject to honor this familiar feeling that resonates amongst several individuals. Besides, ‘Emily the Criminal’ explores how the system is not conducive for people looking for jobs. In one instance, when the protagonist applies to an advertising agency, the employer merely offers her an unpaid internship lasting 5 to 6 months.

Emily gets furious about the unfair policy and sees criminal activities as the only solution. A few other instances provide the audience with a similar picture, giving a fascinating insight into the character’s psyche. Thus, to reiterate, John Patton Ford uses his real-life experiences to craft a compelling fictional story in ‘Emily the Criminal.’

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