Paul Feig’s A Simple Favor is a film that hinges on the reliance of two things: One is of course that you won’t know the twists beforehand, and the other is your willingness to submit yourself to it. I won’t beat around the bush; this movie is absurd. The plot twists wouldn’t be out of place in a telenovela, and there are a few moments early on that will likely induce stifled giggles. That is, until you realize the laughs are wholly intentional. This movie wants you to laugh at it. It wants you to have as much fun as it’s having. And reader, A Simple Favor is having a goddamn blast.
Needless to say, I have no intention of spoiling the twists. But I also won’t ignore the obvious. Maybe you’ve seen the trailers, which brim with shots of Blake Lively looking mysterious. Or at the very least you’ve read the plot synopsis, where Lively’s Emily asks her friend for a favor, inexplicably going missing shortly afterward. Anyone with two eyes and a brain can tell you the obvious. In this post-Gone Girl world, there’s no way in hell Emily is an innocent damsel in this scenario. Now, I won’t tell you exactly what role she plays, but unlike Hollywood most of the time, I like to assume you’re a relatively savvy person with general common sense. Yes, obviously she had some part in it. But the fun lies in the question of why and how. So rest assured, I’ve spoiled nothing.
“Blake Lively imbues [her character] with the carefree demeanor of a woman with nothing to lose”
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get you filled in on the happenings leading up to the incident, shall we? Anna Kendrick plays Stephanie Smothers, the type of over-achieving PTA mom that other moms regard with bitter resentment. The one that has a vlog chronicling home rash remedies and DIY crafts. I think you get the picture. One day while picking her son up from school, he asks if he can have a playdate with his new friend. “We’ll need to ask your mommy first,” she says, looking around the rainy parking lot for the woman in question.
As if on cue, up pulls a chic black car and out steps Emily. In a slow-motion shot that’ll probably elicit one of the aforementioned giggles, she struts across the parking lot in stiletto heals and a pinstripe suit. The human embodiment of the term ‘feminine wiles,’ Blake Lively imbues Emily with the carefree demeanor of a woman with nothing to lose. And Stephanie is immediately taken with her charisma and biting wit (“Mommy already has a playdate with a symphony of antidepressants,” she quips.)
Emily, perhaps a little intrigued by Stephanie herself, eventually invites them over to her place. While the mice play, the cats will share a few gin martinis. The two unexpectedly hit it off and forge a unique connection over the next week or two (the film falters on conveying the passage of time here, so this is a pure estimation). Then Stephanie receives a call from Emily, asking for the titular favor: pick her son up from school. That’s it. Simple, right?
Well hours turn to days, and Stephanie‘s “where the f*ck are you?” calls continue to go unanswered. Emily‘s husband Sean (Henry Golding), who has been out of town caring for his injured mother, declares that while this isn’t unfounded for the notoriously flighty Emily, they should call the police. At this point, about three days later, Emily is just plain missing. (I’ve read a few reviews that take it even further than that, revealing what I believe to be some surprising turns, so I’m leaving it at that.)
” […] but as things progress and themes get darker, so does the humor. And thankfully the performers are mostly down for the ride.”
And thus the film, which until this point has been a pretty light comedic affair, starts chugging along with a little more urgency. The comedy remains intact, and some of it is still light, but as things progress and themes get darker, so does the humor. And thankfully the performers are mostly down for the ride.
The role of Emily, frankly, is tailor-made for Blake Lively. From troubled teen Serena van der Woodsen (Gossip Girl), to secretly-one-hundred-years-old Adaline Bowman (The Age of Adaline), the actress seems to have an affinity for playing beguiling beauties with a perpetual air of mystery surrounding them. And while she’s arguably never been a “bad” actress, she really surprises with what she brings to this role. Lively knows exactly what kind of movie she’s in. But she somehow grounds her actions in such a way that makes them not only believable but a natural extension of the character she’s been portraying this whole time. There’s no whiplash to be felt when things get (more) ridiculous, and that’s in large part due to this consistency in her performance. It can’t be ignored when you find yourself muttering “oh, she would” on more than one occasion during a film.
Slightly less impressive, however, is Kendrick. While she is predictably likable and funny (the woman’s delivery of throwaway one-liners is a gift in itself), she loses her footing a little bit while struggling to navigate some of the tricky ebbs and flows of later scenes. The first half of the film is essentially her usual ‘Anna Kendrick schtick’ we’re accustomed to, but its naturally endearing awkwardness is necessary to sell why the couture-clad Emily would be so interested in someone like Target-sock-wearing Stephanie in the first place. And the rapport that’s established between the two during these early scenes is nothing short of delightful to witness.
In typical Feig fashion, the film (adapted for the screen by Jessica Sharzer) also has a feminist commentary that’s often simultaneously overt and covert. Like when Emily brings Stephanie to her house for the first time. “Don’t apologize, it’s a fucked up female habit. You don’t have to apologize for anything ever,” Emily declares, as she’s shedding pieces of her menswear-inspired pinstripe suit. Actually, nearly all of the outfits she dons are feminine variations on “men’s” looks, right down to the watch on her wrist, noticeably large compared to Stephanie‘s dainty timepiece. Details like these elevate the film just enough to allow yourself forgiveness for devouring its inherent trashiness.
“[A Simple Favor] is so unapologetically nutty it’s hard to be mad at it. The film is trash, but it’s fun trash […]”
One thing I found tough to get past, however, is the film’s similarities to the more notorious mysterious-girl-goes-missing tale, Gone Girl. I wont go into specifics, but aside from the surface similarities, there are two scenes where the likeness was so uncanny it borders on plagiarism. Even the music scoring one scene sounded almost identical to its Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross counterpart.
I haven’t read the book so I’m not sure if these story beats were this blatant in the source material. But either way, it’s this unfortunate bout of familiarity in the writing that knocked it down a peg for me. That’s not to say it ruins the experience, however. Even those scenes are still pretty enjoyable for what they are, and the thing as a whole is so unapologetically nutty it’s hard to be mad at it. The film is “trash”, but it’s fun trash produced by talented people with a nice dash of relevant commentary, and at least two great performances to boot.
So reader, if I have one favor to ask of you it’s this: treat yourself to a matinee screening. Buy some popcorn, kick back, and just let it happen.