Suburban noir has become a big draw for book and film lovers alike. Ever since Amy Dunne declared “I’m so much happier now that I’m dead,” few have tried and failed to recreate Gone Girl’s genius. Comedy god Paul Feig’s newest film is irresistible, but misses some steps on its way up to Gone Girl-level brilliance.
A Simple Favor follows the dark relationship between mom opposites Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) and Emily (Blake Lively). Stephanie, the single mommy vlogger, is quickly seduced by Emily’s rich lifestyle – in all her martini drinking, ’30s Marlene Dietrich glamour. When Emily disappears, Stephanie attempts to get to the bottom of what happened to her best friend – and whether Emily’s husband Sean (Henry Golding) had anything to do with it.
The film opens with Stephanie updating her vlog followers that Emily is still missing, five days since she asked Stephanie for “a simple favor” to pick up her son from school. The film then goes into flashback mode so she can explain to the audience what led up to Emily’s disappearance. Stephanie goes on her own investigation which involves her breaking into Emily’s work office, tracking down her parents, and paying a visit to the camp she spent her summers as a child.
Kendrick and Lively are both powerhouses here, with their conversations being the comedic highlight of the film. Kendrick’s Martha Stewart wannabe Stephanie embodies all of the cliches you can expect from a white mom. As the film goes on, Stephanie lets loose and, if you’re worried you’ll miss out on some Pitch Perfect Kendrick, Feig has you covered with Stephanie doing a hilarious rap. Lively shows here that she has a knack for the dramatic as the fashion PR executive. She exudes power and charm, with Emily’s matter-of-fact comedy delivered effortlessly. As for Henry Golding, he’s as hot and charming as he is in Crazy Rich Asians – what more do you need?
With a narrative full of noir elements, there are so many twists packed into the film’s two-hour running time. When you think you know where it’s going, Feig manages to hit the audience with more twists that make you unintentionally yell “what?!” at least 10 times along with the rest of the theatre crowd. All this leads to a conclusion to the Emily mystery that is nothing short of Feig style wackiness. However, having so many Hitchcockian twists coming at you so often and so quickly leads to a narrative that is more confusing than it is neat and tidy. To put it plainly: it’s an enjoyable, crazy mess. Its missteps can be attributed directly to the source material. Not to spoil anything, but there are certain choices made by Anna Kendrick’s character which would have been better off left to the source material because of how bizarre and “yikes!” they are.
Looking at Paul Feig’s filmography since Bridesmaids, it’s no surprise that he would eventually want to tackle a female-centric mystery thriller. To be expected from him, the film has many laughs, and surprisingly, they land and mesh well with the dark tone of the second half of the film. It’s twisted and raunchy, as all high budget Lifetime movies should be.