Director: Paul Feig
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding, Andrew Rannells, Linda Cardellini, Rupert Friend, Jean Smart
Summers over so it’s time for the thrillers to start coming back into cinemas, and we’re off to a cracking start with Paul Feig’s (Bridesmaids, Freaks and Geeks) latest film A Simple Favor. Straddling more genres than you’d expect and boasting a small cast of big names, A Simple Favor takes audiences on a twisty whodunit ride of games and deceptions.
Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick, Pitch Perfect); an over-enthusiastic mother with an aspirational mommy vlog becomes Odd Couple-style friends with the sharp and mysterious Emily Nelson (Blake Lively, Savages) following their sons demands for a playdate. One day Emily asks Stephanie for “a simple favour” before going missing. Consoling Emily’s husband Sean (Henry Golding, Crazy Rich Asians) and seeking help from her followers, Stephanie tries to piece together what has happened to her best friend and uncovers far more than she bargained for in the process.
At its heart A Simple Favor is a psychological thriller, reminiscent of Les Diaboliques which not only gets nicely gets name-checked in the script but also lends a little inspiration to the Saul Bass-style opening and closing pastel credit sequences filled with bouncy retro French pop. But there are far more layers and genres to it; so many that it sounds like it shouldn’t work when you list them because it should be too busy, but they all blend together to create something new. It’s a black comedy that will make you laugh at some awful wicked things. It’s a romance film which boasts a rather steamy scene of intimacy that isn’t all about the male gaze and is instead just focused on two characters being swept up in a sudden all-consuming mutual passion (and is all the hotter for it let me tell you). It’s a horror in the way that Gone Girl was – using loss, deception and family pain as a way of creating fear. It even feels like a French farce film at times, it has the infectious absurdity and charm to it of Lost in Paris (reviewed here), where you start to wonder as you what could honestly happen next. There’s so much more to unravel from the film, but you should go see it and see what else you can spot in it.
The cast here is rather small, but that works to give Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick’s characters the space to breathe and bond – to make you believe that these two very different women could become so close. The pair of them are perfect fits for their characters, Anna Kendrick as the always cheery do-gooder Stephanie is a joy to watch, and the moments where you laugh at her are never in a mean-spirited way but more in the way of a friend you care for doing something a little silly – her launch into discussing her animal-themed socks for instance is a prime example of the adorable awkwardness you have to laugh at. Blake Lively manages to embody the acerbic and at times down-right harsh Emily with ease, making her seem strangely charming and otherworldly even at her worst moments in a way you can understand being looked up to by others as a beautiful mysterious to uncover. And honestly I’m still envious of her wardrobe in this film; it fits her character perfectly and adds to the air of grace and elegance surrounding her that makes you so curious about this almost ghost-like person. Their friendship is one of stark differences and yet the bond they build feels like it’s about bettering themselves and each other – Emily’s feminist teachings to Stephanie for instance to stop apologising for everything just because she’s a woman are harsh but sweet and based upon solid advice that many in the audience probably need reminding of too (how I fought the urge to stand up and applaud that moment I do not know, but it was a big hit with the audience around me too).
Feig has done a great job here at balancing the darkness with humour as the story twists and turns throughout, never allowing it to get too silly or too dour and instead blending and shifting between the two to the point where you laugh at some terrible things. If dark humour isn’t your thing this might not be the film for you as you could easily walk out of it at the end feeling very guilty (in all honesty I walked out grinning but dark and off-kilter is how I like my humour). What A Simple Favor will give you is two hours of schadenfreude, delighting in double-crosses and snappy dialogue that makes it feel like you’re watching Mean Girls for adults.
A Simple Favor is a sly film, a seemingly simple mystery on the surface but complex and sometimes cruel underneath. It keeps you on the edge of your seat as you navigate the truths and the lies, trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together much like Stephanie is through the story. Some of the twists are a little obvious if you’re a fan of noir and psychological thrillers, but only some which means there are moments where you’re confident you’ve figured it out and minutes later it all gets turned on its head and you’re back to playing detective again. A Simple Favour is sinister, dark, and hilarious, keeping its audience on its toes whilst you watch the madness play out on the screen. This is the film to help you shake off the popcorn flicks of the summer and start indulging in the darkness again as the nights draw in.
Overall Rating: 5/5
A deliciously dark and funny film with complex women, a noir feel and an acidic script that made me laugh to tears.
(OH! Fun fact for those that might be interested, promoting this film is why Blake Lively deleted all of her Instagram photos earlier this year. You’ll get why when you watch the film!)