A Simple Favor
By: Megan Hess
A Simple Favor (Feig, 2018) is anything but. Based on the Darcey Bell novel, it’s Nancy Drew (Fleming, 2007) mixed with Gone Girl (Fincher, 2014) and a splash of Game of Thrones (Benioff and Weiss, 2011). It’s best described using a Kanye West album title: a “beautiful, dark, twisted fantasy.” Director Paul Feig, who’s best known for Bridesmaids (2011) and the ill-fated, all-female Ghostbusters reboot, has found a profitable niche in comedy. However, other than I Am David (also based on a novel) in 2003, A Simple Favor is the most serious movie on his resume – and, coincidentally, one of the best.
Several years ago, Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick) experienced a startling and gruesome personal tragedy. Thanks to her type-A personality, she’s been able to rebuild her life and even has a successful “mommy vlog.” Then she meets Emily Nelson (Blake Lively) a fellow parent from her son’s class. Despite being different in every way other than having children, the two become best friends. One day, Stephanie gets a phone call from Emily asking for “a simple favor…” which whips her formerly uncomplicated life into a frenzy of mystery, lust, trauma and murder.
The base storyline of A Simple Favor is meaty and twisty enough on its own that it would make a decent movie with almost any cast, but Kendrick and Lively make it impossible to see anyone else in their roles. Cutesy-awkward Stephanie isn’t anything new for Anna Kendrick – imagine her Into the Woods (Marshall, 2014) character as a mommy vlogger. Besides the Pitch Perfect trilogy and Scott Pilgrim vs the World (Wright), she’s made a career of earnest, enthusiastic women cleverer than they appear.
The one moment in Pitch Perfect that feels like something Stephanie – or almost any of Kendrick’s other characters – would do.
Blake Lively’s character is the total opposite: chic, cool, a little crazy. Lively’s made a career out of playing leggy blondes - in Gossip Girl (Savage and Schwartz, 2007) the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (Kwapis, 2005) movies and more – but, unlike in Green Lantern (Campbell, 2011) or Café Society (Allen, 2016) she’s more than just pretty window dressing here, and thinking of her as such seriously underestimates her talent. (Saying any more than that would be venturing into spoiler territory.) She and Anna Kendrick have an authentic, compelling, sometimes homoerotic chemistry. Other than the two leads, the only actor whose performance really stands out is Andrew Rannells, who takes a break from Broadway for a catty dad cameo. (Emily’s husband, Shawn, is attractive but forgettable…although he does get to have a steamy sex scene with Kendrick.)
The one major critique of A Simple Favor (other than that it’s heavy on the profanity, which is a personal preference) is that it does its job too well. On its way to wrapping up, it gets so twisty that it’s a little hard to follow. However, an attentive viewer might bypass this problem – the film’s way of keeping the audience on its toes. If you want to skip the gore and guts this Halloween season and are looking for a psychological thriller, Feig’s contemporary neo-noir effort might be just what you need.