A Simple Favour is fun viewing which should be better than it is and that is, quite simply, disappointing. A hilarious start to this stylish thriller slowly dwindles to an unsatisfying riposte to the question posed in the opening scene. What happened to Emily?
The Emily in question is career driven, ambitious and unashamedly, the most reluctant of mothers, who juxtaposes perfectly against her new friend Stephanie. Anna Kendrick is perfectly cast as the saccharine sweet, overly perky mommy vlogger, Stephanie Smothers. She quickly establishes a friendship with Blake Lively’s sassy, sexy and self-assured Emily, despite their only common ground being their sons’ schoolyard friendship. After what appears to be a shallow relationship founded upon afternoon martini sessions, and relentless condescension by Emily while she tries to comprehend how the other half live. Stephanie, meanwhile, covets Emily’s home, wealth, wardrobe and apparently passionate relationship with husband Sean (Henry Golding).
One afternoon, apparently not far into this mismatched and incomprehensible friendship, Emily asks for the titular simple favour – for Stephanie to pick up her son from school. But Emily disappears, leaving Stephanie to do some sleuthing of her own, and share the mystery with her vlog viewers. As she investigates, she helps care for Emily and Sean’s son, while growing ever closer to Sean.
The mystery deepens to the point of nonsense, secrets are revealed, and schlock abounds. It’s a tacky storyline that even the wonderful direction of Paul Feig can’t salvage. Blame the studio’s premature purchase of the rights to the novel by Darcey Bell one year before publication, perhaps. Just take a gander at the novel’s reviews on Good Reads for an explanation as to why this was a poor investment – it is not a hit with readers.
Audiences will be familiar with Feig from snappy, pacey comedic projects starring strong women, such as Ghostbusters (2016), Bridesmaids, and The Heat. He delivers more of the same unmissable one liners and brilliant dialogue in this dark romp. Unfortunately, it misses a beat more often than not, mainly because it’s so hard to pin down.
There are just too many issues to make this the hit it should have been. There is no backstory for Stephanie to outline why she has no adult friends and so quickly falls into bed with her new “best friend”. Other than some snide bitching by other mommies at Stephanie’s son’s school, we have zero reason to understand her lack of interaction with other adults and what is nothing short of her obsession with mommy hood. It just doesn’t add up.
This feeling of confusion persists for much of the last acts, leaving the audience to wonder what exactly they’re watching. Is this a dark comedy? A thriller? A mystery? Emily’s disappearance is both fascinating and confounding, as it should be, but it could play out with more payoff. The volume and pace of the third act’s plot twists and red herrings leaves the head spinning. Sadly, the film really needs a strong edit – cut much of the latter scenes, and there’s something really brilliant left on the reel. That final act sways to and fro like a blow-up balloon man waving from a second-hand car dealership crying out for attention, and becomes just as frustrating and irritating.
The saving graces are Blake Lively’s phenomenal costumes, worth the price of admission alone. Sassy, sexy and totally reflective of her character, the sharp suiting almost plays as a character in itself. Red leather gloves, plunging necklines on three piece suits and cascading blonde locks are sheer heaven. Combined with the sexy French soundtrack, it’s more than bearable. It’s sexy as hell.
A Simple Favour is convoluted wackiness, full of schlock, but funny as heck and still a great watch.