A SIMPLE FAVOUR is certainly something. I like going into a film without the faintest idea of what to expect and still having a really good time (GAME NIGHT was the other one of those for me this year). Paul Feig’s attempt at a Hitchcock-style suspense thriller is by no means a slam-dunk, but it’s stylish, funny and pretty dark by the BRIDESMAIDS director’s usual standards.
Super-mum/Vlogger Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) becomes fast friends with fellow mother and edgy fashion executive Emily (Blake Lively). Stephanie opens up to her new best friend but Emily does not reciprocate, then after asking Stephanie to pick her son up from school she suddenly disappears. What happened to Emily?
Something’s a bit off about everyone involved, every key player is lying to some extent and everyone has various shades of dark secrets. Every actor has to communicate so much with a look, but avoid giving the game away until the time is right for the secrets to start tumbling out.
2018 is undoubtedly the year of the Information Age thriller. As well as using social media as a method of storytelling, in A Simple Favour, SEARCHING and ASSASSINATION NATION it is also used as a tool or a weapon for characters to achieve their ends. Stephanie could never get as far down the rabbit hole of Emily’s life as she does without communication innovation and easy access to almost limitless information, and one of the film’s best “gotcha” moments comes via one of her Vlog posts.
Though entertaining throughout, the film’s first half full of intrigue and possibilities is probably stronger. It’s completely captivating, eerie and has so much potential. When we finally find out what’s what, I was almost disappointed. As twists go, the one(s) they chose to go with work well enough, but the buildup to the revelations seemed to hint at going in several much madder, more interesting directions.
It’s quite a sight to see Kendrick sharing the scene with Lively, the former looking almost comically petite and out of place in Emily’s designed-to-an-inch-of-its-life house. I’m not really a clothes guy, but Feig famously is, and he directs for an audience who eat with their eyes. Lively’s look in this film is certainly a statement, to the extent that one of her outfits completely distracted me from the important things people were saying in a key scene. The pair have great chemistry, unlikely friends bonding over dark jokes and strong martinis, the perfect and the wanting mothers, the ego and the id of their collective psyches if we’re going to be pretentious in our analysis. It’s also great to see two mothers just enjoying a bit of time away from their kids for the soapy (not a criticism) initial stretch of a movie and Kendrick and Lively really sell the more bizarre turns the story takes as the plot thickens.
I did have a small issue with tone, how some quite serious subject matter is almost shrugged off as a gag and how Kendrick’s usual sunny personality never abates even in her character’s most trying moments. This is where Feig’s usual talents of heading pure comedy vehicles doesn’t quite seem to fit – you can have levity in serious material, but effective black comedy that matches, even elevates stories about murder and vice requires a defter touch than this.
A Simple Favour offers simple pleasures from fashion show gloss to plenty of cutting insults and Anna Kendrick on her usual charming form. Also on offer are a fair few entertaining rug-pulls and a really interesting arc for our two leads. I’d be more than up for seeing Paul Feig trying his hand at material like this again, and I sincerely hope this reminds everyone Blake Lively kills it with the right material. SSP