|Posted by Nick Spake on September 13, 2018 at 6:30 PM|
Audiences may go into “A Simple Favor” expecting something along the lines of “Gone Girl” or “The Girl on the Train.” It certainly earns comparison to those films, having numerous twists entangled within even more twists. The movie also draws parallels to a dark satire like “Desperate Housewives,” however. It isn’t afraid to take the tropes you’d typically find in a mystery novel and flip them upside down. At the same time, the film still flows like a classic detective story with a tight plot and killer payoffs. Particularly calling “Game Night” to mind, it makes the most out of what appears to be a simple premise and emerges as one of the year’s more pleasant surprises.
The always enjoyable Anna Kendrick stars as Stephanie Smothers, who – as her name suggests – can come off as a bit overwhelming. The other moms and dads envy Stephanie’s ability to juggle being a single parent, volunteering at the school, and still having time to do her mommy vlog. Stephanie develops an unlikely friendship with Black Lively’s Emily, a charismatic woman who prioritizes work and martinis above parenting. When Emily suddenly goes missing, Stephanie channels her inner private investigator to figure out where she went. Matters only get more complicated, though, as Stephanie grows closer with Emily’s husband, played by Henry Golding of “Crazy Rich Asians.”
Kendrick is perfectly cast as a supermom who seems innocent on the surface, but has several skeletons locked away in the closet and isn’t afraid to get dirty. It’s Lively’s mysterious performance that catches the audience off-guard, however. Lively has demonstrated serious acting chops in films like “The Shallows” and “The Town,” but we’ve never seen her quite like this before. It’s almost as if Lively is parodying a “Gossip Girl” character, but still manages to come off as genuinely complex and even intimidating. From the moment Emily storms onscreen, the audience isn’t entirely sure what her deal is. Is she a caring best friend or merely using Stephanie to get something else? Is she an outrageous socialite or a complete sociopath capable of unspeakable deeds? All we know for sure is that Emily commands every room she enters, making her desirable to all those who encounter her.
The fact that Emily is such a wild card is what ultimately makes “A Simple Favor” so much fun to watch. Granted, there are a few twists that are fairly easy to sniff out. For every moment the audience sees coming, though, there’s another that pulls the rug right out from under us. Even when the film is at its most over-the-top, the plot developments never come off as forced or tacked on. Everything feels like it was carefully plotted out, which makes the viewer want to rewatch the movie in hopes of catching clues that might’ve eluded them the first time around.
Jessica Sharzer adapted her screenplay from Darcey Bell’s novel, striking a pitch perfect balance of legitimate thrills and witty dialog. Director Paul Feig hit a bit of a rough patch with the divisive “Ghostbusters” reboot, but he’s back in full-force here. While it’s not a laugh-per-minute comedy like “Bridesmaids” or “Spy,” “A Simple Favor” is perhaps Feig’s most stylish and sophisticated film to date. The art direction and costume design practically come off as Hitchcockian, albeit a bit more colorful. Like some of Hitchcock’s more comedic efforts, “A Simple Favor” leaves the audience wondering if they should laugh at the characters or fear for them, which is always a sign of a fascinating film.
Grade: 4 out of 5 Stars