Lavish, funny and a little deranged, Paul Feig’s A SIMPLE FAVOUR a jaunty mystery and a tart black comedy all rolled into one
Paul Feig may be best known for film comedies such as BRIDESMAIDS (2011), SPY (2015) and GHOSTBUSTERS (2016) but the director now tries his hand at the mystery drama genre with his latest film A SIMPLE FAVOUR.
Based on Darcey Bell’s 2017 novel, A SIMPLE FAVOUR opens with Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick), a single stay-at-home mother and part-time vlogger who interrupts her weekly baking vlog to let us know that her best friend Emily Nelson (Blake Lively) is still missing and has been for five days. Emily asked for Stephanie to pick up her child up from school but she never came home from work.
Flashback to the first time Stephanie and Emily met and you start to wonder whether the pair really ever were best friends. Polar opposites – Stephanie is an overeager, devoted mother who is always helping out at the school while Emily is a sophisticated, sharp-tongued, high-powered fashion PR executive who never says sorry – the pair become unlikely friends after meeting during their children’s afterschool playdate. As the film develops, we start to get a better understanding of the interesting bond that develops between the two mothers, but at every moment we know that tragedy is coming.
At this point, it would be easy to compare A SIMPLE FAVOUR to other female-driven thrillers such as GONE GIRL (2014) and THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN (2016) which both centre around the disappearance of a female suburbanite and, indeed, there are stylistic parallels. Visually, the film is slick and stylish with cinematographer John Schwartzman’s glossy and off-centre tone suitably matching Stephanie and Emily’s contrasting lives. Feig even indulges in the odd stylistic shot as Emily makes her grand, slow-motion entrance and an umbrella blows randomly across a rainy street.
But what keeps this particular picture fresh is its cheeky tongue-in-cheek tone which makes A SIMPLE FAVOUR a jaunty mystery and a tart black comedy all rolled into one. Here, Screenwriter Jessica Sharzer and Director Feig somehow manage to maintain a sense of mystery and seriousness but with a dark sense of fun and humour, delivering the nastier elements with such glee that they somehow make you laugh without losing the film’s sense of unease.
Much of film’s success lies in Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively’s performances whose onscreen chemistry makes A SIMPLE FAVOUR so compelling. Kendrick has fun with the Stepford-style Mom, displaying her usual gift for self-deprecating smarts and cheeky asides. Emily – a woman who can be warm one second and prickly the next – could have easily slipped into a caricature but Lively plays the complicated character with such nuance that she exudes mischievous charm and power.
Yet while A SIMPLE FAVOUR is a delightfully twisty thriller, as the mystery behind Emily’s disappearance starts to unravel, the plot becomes increasing far-fetched and clichéd. Yes, there are moments that will surprise and shock viewers but fans of psychological thrillers will no doubt see the twists and turns coming and the finale is so bonkers that you can’t help but laugh at its sheer ridiculousness.
That said, it is this ridiculousness – along with Kendrick and Lively’s compelling performances – which makes A SIMPLE FAVOUR so entertaining. Lavish, funny and a little deranged, you can almost feel the ardour from the filmmakers as they savour the chance to push the envelope of this gripping drama, making the wackiest of scenarios seem perfectly plausible within the merrily absurd context.
A bonkers yet brilliant take on Bell’s bestseller.
A SIMPLE FAVOUR is released in UK cinemas from 20 September 2018.
Donna is the Founder and Editor of Frankly, My Dear UK. By day, she works as a digital marketing specialist, by night she reviews film, theatre and music for a wide range of publications including WhatsonStage and The Reviews Hub. Loves Formula 1, prosecco and life.