Published on September 21st, 2018 | by Dan Nicholls0
A Simple Favor
A Simple Favor hits a lot of different notes well. It may not be packed with wholly original ideas, but it’s definitely worth a watch.
How far would you go for a friend? That’s the question Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) faces daily after her best friend Emily (Blake Lively) suddenly disappears (it’s also Michael Jackson’s theme song from Free Willy). The unlikely pals couldn’t be more different even when they prove to be eerily similar in surprising ways.
A Simple Favor is an unexpected thriller/mystery/black comedy romp that ratchets up the entertainment value to compensate for where it lacks in inventiveness. We’ve seen variations on this type of tale before but what matters is how it’s pulled off by the cast and crew. Director Paul Feig leads his team with a steady hand and the end result is delightfully enjoyable.
We first meet the awkward and polite Stephanie, who is a vlogger specializing in mommy cooking tips, picking her kid up from school. The kid’s buddy’s mom shows up as well and Stephanie is instantly transfixed by everything about her. Emily is everything Stephanie’s not – rich, married, sassy, bold – it’s friend love at first sight. Stephanie’s awkwardness is played up a touch past ‘endearing’ in the beginning and as a result she momentarily seems like a joke and not a protagonist you can take seriously. Those moments are thankfully fleeting, and once Stephanie meets Emily fascinating layers of the character are peeled back.
Emily’s husband Sean (Henry Golding, continuing his great year after starring in Crazy Rich Asians) is just as fascinated and enraptured by Emily while seemingly knowing about as much about her as Stephanie does. After Emily’s disappearance, many secrets float to the surface and perceptions of each of the three main characters fluctuates to extremes. The twists and turns of the plot are many and won’t be discussed here. Suffice to say Emily’s secretive past is slowly unwoven and the mystery deepens until all is revealed in the end.
Kendrick does a wholly admirable job anchoring this ship while Lively and Golding impress throughout. The characters are distinct and while some minor side characters are less welcome, everyone is uniformly excellent in their parts. Feig’s comedy roots can’t help but break through the surface but his quick wit keeps the tone zipping back to right where it needs to be at the proper moments, for the most part. One major transgression is that the film’s epilogue is too jokey to jive with the rest of the film and should’ve easily been excised from the final cut. Some issues with the balance of styles become apparent when the dialogue starts to lay the humor on super thick. But Feig is a studier of the human condition first and foremost and rightly zips the comedy at the most important moments.
Production values are glossy and sexy, helping the whole package maintain an air of freshness. Comparisons may arise to The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl but A Simple Favor is of its own design. It’s more clever and charming than you’d expect and admittedly keeps you on your toes more than you’d like to admit given its procedural plot points. It might not be the best movie playing currently but it’s still a damn fulfilling time at the cinema in its own right.