A Simple Favor (2018)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
FIrst name Anna, last name Kendrick. Okay, Blake Lively and Henry Golding too, but seriously…Anna Kendrick.
A Simple Favor is more fun than it has any right to be, with a whip-smart screenplay and a wacky, unpredictable free-wheeling tone from director Paul Feig.
At or near the top of the list of the most entertaining films of 2018 for me so far.
May play a bit arrogant and vulgar to more reserved audiences.
A campy, suspense/thriller homage is not something the trailer shows you, so fans expecting something more serious might come away disappointed.
Lots of style and twists and turns, which may mask over a lack of substance in all of this. Were someone to ask me “What is the point?”, I may not have a good response, other than…”Are you not entertained?!?!?!”
Emanating from the “dark mind” of writer/director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, Spy), his suspense/thriller homage, A Simple Favor, is only dark in terms of the sense of humor the film possesses. This is a smart, clever, and downright wacky story which surprises as it engages us in laughter.
Anna Kendrick stars as Stephanie, a single mom who vlogs about things moms would presumably be interested in – recipes, life hacks, parenting tips, etc. Her son Miles (Joshua Satine) befriends Nicky (Ian Ho) and the two boys want to have a playdate. Stephanie soon discovers that Nicky’s mother is the stunning and magnetic Emily (Blake Lively), a busy PR director for a high-class fashion design company, who turns heads with her gorgeous appearance and enigmatic presence. Soon, the two women become friends, bonding over their son’s friendship.
Residing in an expansive home, Emily, and husband Sean (Henry Golding), a one-hit wonder as a best-selling author, now languishing as a college professor, seem to portray a perfect, carefree life. Once a little comfortable with Stephanie, Emily lets on that things are not as wonderful as they seem. Nicky seems lost in the shuffle a bit and Stephanie soon becomes willing to do anything she can to help the couple out.
Unexpectedly, Emily is called out on a business trip for work, while Sean is visiting his ailing mother in London. Nicky stays with Stephanie and Miles, but after a day or so, Emily is nowhere to be found. She has seemingly vanished. And after several days, and no success in tracking her down, Stephanie assists Sean in filing a mission persons report.
From here, twists and turns abound, every bit as lurid and “paperback romance novel” as you can imagine. Feig has concocted a movie, working from a fantastic script from Jessica Scherzer and adapted from Darcey Bell’s popular novel, which feels like a 1990s-era, straight-to-video erotic thriller. Though embracing that kitsch, A Simple Favor is smarter and cleverer than any of those throwaway movies could ever hope to be.
Kendrick slays. Period. Full stop. She commands the screen in a brilliant, whip-smart, hilarious turn as a woman not only increasingly seduced into the lifestyle she catches hints of, but also unable to set proper boundaries when it comes to the lives of her new BFFs. One of Kendrick’s talents as an actor is her impeccable timing, and Feig gives her ample opportunities to say just the right thing, at just the right time, to make Stephanie an absolute joy to watch on screen.
Lively is also quite terrific, in a role more nuanced than one initially imagines. She is convincing when radiating wealth and confidence, and in other moments where she shares unanticipated vulnerability.
Fresh off his star-making role in Crazy Rich Asians, Golding is a little more mysterious as Sean, but every bit as dashing and seductive in his scenes with Kendrick and Lively.
A Simple Favor wholeheartedly embraces its pulpy, soapy melodrama. There is no ego about any of this, Feig knows exactly what he is doing. His flexibility with Scherzer’s script keeps us guessing, as, several surprises await us in the final act.
And I would be remiss to not give a shoutout to costume designer Renee Ehrlich Kalfus. A Simple Favor is not a movie that will likely make it far during Oscar season, but if a contemporary film deserved an Oscar nomination for costumes, this is it. The clothing is as much of a character in the film as Stephanie, Emily, and Sean happen to be, and Kalfus’ attention to detail, and collaboration with Feig is some of the finest work, in this realm, in 2018.
Admittedly, not everything works here. A subplot involving a co-worker of Sean’s seems unnecessary, while the occasional goofy deep dives into a French pop song playlist seem to exist simply for Feig’s amusement. Then we have three single parents, of kids in Miles and Nicky’s class, who feel as if they had portions of their scenes left on the cutting room floor. They simply don’t have the impact on the story Feig seemingly intended.
Imperfections aside though, A Simple Favor has so much energy, charm, and presence about it, I simply had a smile stretching from ear-to-ear nearly the entire time. Kendrick is an absolute treasure, and alongside Lively and Golding, her mystery-solving, single-mother, vlogger on the loose is one of 2018’s most enjoyable characters in one of the year’s most entertaining films.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding, Ian Ho, Joshua Satine, Andrew Rannells, Kelly McCormack, Aparna Nancherla, Andrew Moodie, Glenda Braganza, Rupert Friend, Linda Cardellini, Jean Smart, Roger Dunn, Jamie Jones.
Director: Paul Feig
Written by: Jessica Scherzer
Based on the novel “A Simple Favor” by Darcey Bell
Release Date: September 14, 2018