A Simple Favor is a fun, melodramatic little thriller that combines Hitchcockian cinematic tension with the drama of a Shonda Rhimes series. Slightly contrived with a dark humour, Paul Feig’s interpretation of Darcey Bell’s 2017 novel of the same name is bursting with drama, twists, and secrets deeper than a lake in Michigan. It’s Gone Girl (2014) if Gone Girl were a lifetime movie with a sense of humour and self-awareness.
The film starts by introducing the aptly named Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick) — a cutesy, neurotic, and overbearing ‘mommy vlogger’ — who is updating her vlog followers on the disappearance of her ‘best friend’ Emily Nelson (Blake Lively). Emily is a PR manager for a Tom Ford-esque company in ‘The City’ who wears tailored suits and walks with the swagger of a southern gent, even when she’s collecting her son from school. Stephanie and Emily bond over their sons, though the other parents — including the wonderful Andrew Rannells of Book of Mormon and Girls fame, who has some of the film’s funniest lines — doubt Emily’s intentions. Stephanie is seemingly oblivious as she and Emily drink martinis and swap scandals, getting ever closer and closer.
Everything takes a turn for the dramatic when Emily rings Stephanie asking for ‘a simple favor [sic.]’ (gasp! She said it!), and then — seemingly — disappears. What happens from here on out is a series of twists and turns that get more complicated as the film goes on, and trying to make sense of them will induce a headache. While this is a fun noir-inspired mystery where every character seems laden with secrets, the final twist (and there are so many) feels a little bit contrived. However, with A Simple Favor, it’s better not to take anything too seriously, and rather embrace it for the pulp-throwback that it is.
This is another of Paul Feig’s films focused on female characters (his previous films including Bridesmaids , Spy , and Ghostbusters ), and despite its weaknesses, it is positive to see relatively well-rounded female characters take the lead here. One moment that stands out is when Emily tells Stephanie to stop saying sorry — “it’s a fucked up female reflex”.
Kendrick and Lively have strong chemistry and the former’s comic timing in particular gives the film the heart it needs to move up a few notches. While not something the academy will likely rave about, A Simple Favor is a fun modern noir; the perfect film to enjoy with friends and a bottle of wine.
Image: Jack Merridew via Wikimedia Commons