A Simple Favor
Updated: Feb 7, 2020
Anna Kendrick has a likable screen presence. She has that indefinable quality that makes her seem instantly trustworthy. Blake Lively, meanwhile, has the kind of smile that makes you feel like she knows something we do not and she is not going to share. The mystery/suspense/comedy hybrid A Simple Favor has them smartly cast as a lonely, hardworking single mom and a high-class, hard-drinking wife/mother with some serious secrets, respectively. The narrative plays with these types in a story that is sometimes slightly ridiculous, though always engaging. It is a huge credit to the actresses that I bought into the action as much as I did. The plot has its rough spots, yet the mildly amused tone and enjoyable performances kept me consistently entertained. It is weird to call a fairly dark movie fun, but A Simple Favor is pretty fun.
Anna Kendrick is Stephanie, a widow who busies herself by helping at her son’s school and creating a vlog with tips for other moms. One day, she takes her son on a playdate and meets Emily. Emily is everything Stephanie wishes she could be: classy, funny, cool, successful. She lives in a fancy house and has a seemingly fairytale marriage. Stephanie immediately falls for her and they become best friends. Then, Emily asks her to pick up her son from school and never comes home, causing Stephanie to investigate her friend’s life. There are a whole bunch of twists and turns from there, some surprising, some credulity straining. Parts connect, others less so, but it is never boring.
A Simple Favor (112 minutes, without the end credits) has been adapted from Darcey Bell’s 2017 novel by Jessica Sharzer and directed by Paul Feig. Feig mainly works in comedy which would explain the light touch he takes with this material. This is not, strictly speaking, a comedy, but I did laugh more than I expected. He finds humor in potentially suspenseful moments, adding to the film’s surprises. They move this plot from thriller territory to the equivalent of a breezy beach read, perfect for the end of summer. The tone is uneven; sometimes it is straight mystery or drama or thriller. Despite occasionally getting confusing, it feels like, in general, Feig had the right idea.
Though it is somewhat up and down and the last act is a little overly silly, A Simple Favor succeeds thanks to its two leads. Anna Kendrick proves here that not only can she play comedy (both verbal and physical), melodrama and thriller, she can do it all in the same movie. Amazingly, she never loses her way in the story. No matter what was going on, I believed her and was rooting for Stephanie to figure out what was going on. It helps that her character is intelligent (even when she is being duped) because I am not sure I could buy Kendrick playing a dummy.
Blake Lively has an equally challenging role since she has to quickly make a strong impression before her character disappears. Her Emily is both alluring and dangerous at the same time. It is easy to understand why people would be drawn to her despite her admitted untrustworthiness. Emily has to be the enigmatic pendulum on which the entire enterprise swings. Lively makes her as fascinating and mysterious as she needs to be.
A large amount of that aura fades once secrets start getting revealed, but such is the case with most mysteries. However, A Simple Favor works just fine even when its plot gets a little messy. If it is not exactly a classic of the genre, who really cares? It is nicely diverting escapist fare that never takes itself too seriously. It does not need to be great when it is already this pleasurable.
3½ out of 5
Anna Kendrick as Stephanie Smothers
Blake Lively as Emily Nelson
Henry Golding as Sean Townsend
Ian Ho as Nicky Nelson
Joshua Satine as Miles Smothers
Bashir Salahuddin as Detective Summervile
Andrew Rannells as Darren
Directed by Paul Feig
Screenply by Jessica Sharzer