A Simple Favor. 2018
Directed by Paul Feig
Starring Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding, Linda Cardellini, Andrew Rannells, Jean Smart, Ian Ho, Joshua Satine, Kelly McCormack. Andrew Moodie, Eric Johnson, Sarah Baker, Zach Smadu, and Rupert Friend
A Simple Favor centers around Stephanie (Anna Kendrick), a mommy blogger who seeks to uncover the truth behind her best friend Emily’s (Blake Lively) sudden disappearance from their small town.
Here’s how much fun director Paul Feig is having with his newest project A Simple Favor (based upon the novel by Darcy Bell from a script by occasional American Horror Story contributor Jessica Sharzer, and appropriately so considering this twisty mystery is one hell of an American horror story); prior to the ending credits the film has fake text cards spelling out the future of each of the major players within this elaborate web of lies, deceit, and jealousy, as if it were a true story. Truthfully, despite how nutty A Simple Favor is, you would be forgiven for taking the trickery at face value since the real world’s already gone mad. I’m sure crazier things have actually happened in real life, but with that said, the events that unfold here are pretty fucking crazy, as if Paul Feig watched Gone Girl on a whim one night and decided he wanted to take a crack at something similar.
In the interest of fairness, I will wholeheartedly admit I came into this with extremely low expectations for two reasons, with the first being my indifference towards the filmmaker’s first attempt to branch away from raunchy comedy with the all-female led Ghostbusters reboot, and the second being the god-awful trailer that left me utterly confounded as to what the hell it was supposed to be. Basically, it felt as if Paul Feig was trekking further out of his comfort zone despite finding only moderate success at best doing so a few years ago, with the initial marketing carrying the scent of disaster. After having seen the film, it’s obvious why the trailer is so bad; I legitimately have no idea how the hell you market this thing without giving away plot important details and let’s face it, you want to know as little as possible going in. With that said, if you enjoyed the advertising, it’s a safe bet you will love the rest of the movie.
Enough about that, though. The reason A Simple Favor works so well as a guilty pleasure, sleazy, soap opera thriller comes down to Feig’s casting decisions and his ability to inject ludicrous material with humor and full sense of awareness at how ridiculous the story is. The two female leads here are absolute dynamite; Anna Kendrick portrays a socially awkward mom who Internet vlogs in her free time reaching out to an audience of other mothers speaking on appropriate topics, and utilizes her quirky charm to dole out doses of comedy into fairly dark situations, successfully blending those tones. This is as deliberate a casting decision as any, and I can’t imagine the film being as nearly effective without Anna Kendrick’s brand of comedic line delivery and Paul Feig’s handle on how to marry seriousness with absurdist hilarity (this is also demonstrated with an eerie soundtrack that renders the laughs blacker).
Meanwhile, the polar opposite of her personality is portrayed by Blake Lively, which is certainly more daring casting as she turns in quite the excellent performance that is also one unlike anything we’ve ever seen from her. Whereas Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) is a loner single mom (yes, all is explained, but you’re going to have to go to some other review if you want extensive plot details) often picked on by the other parents for her optimism and energetic approach to raising her child and participating in elementary school activities, Emily (Blake Lively) is enigmatic and mysterious, living a life of luxury and also married to one-hit wonder novelist Sean (Henry Golding continuing to effortlessly charm and make a strong case for being the next James Bond), but all is not as it seems on the surface.
Introduced with an over-the-top, slow motion, rain-soaked entrance (Feig always knows when to enhance a scene with stylistic touches or upbeat music here, with every attempt yielding terrific results) Emily meets Stephanie at the school, and while she is hesitant to hang out with her (both of them have no friends, really) it is their children desiring a play date that brings them together. Without saying much, Emily goes missing after a few days following the titular simple favor, giving us our mystery. The proceedings are laced with a corkscrew style narrative that mostly holds up thanks to Anna Kendrick; her natural ability to fuse humor into something sinister transforms her character into an unreadable woman, meaning that even if you have an idea where the next twist lies, you might second-guess yourself or find yourself flat-out wrong. There is a bit of a lull around the halfway mark with some tedious investigation, but things pick right back up soon enough for a climactic ending that will somewhere have David Fincher nodding in approval.
Briefly, the social media aspect should also be discussed in greater detail, as the story subtly delivers commentary on our fascination with tragedy and missing persons cases. As you can probably expect, no one really cares about Stephanie’s Internet streaming channel at the beginning of the movie, but as she begins making each new plot thread part of her next show, interest grows and grows. Everyone loves a good tragedy, and moviegoers love a good trashy mystery, especially when the game cast is throwing their all behind it. A Simple Favor isn’t high art, and it is preposterous with numerous red herrings and bizarre character details, but it also knows how to present itself as one wild unpredictable ride. Please let Paul Feig continue to punch up familiar sub-genres with wicked dark humor.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com