Oh, it pains me to spell that word without a “u”!
Director Paul Feig’s latest film focuses on super enthusiastic single mother and aspiring vlogger Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) who has her world turned upside down when she crosses paths with the enigmatic and uber-confident Emily (Blake Lively), a fellow mom who’s married to struggling author Sean (Henry Golding), the two of them striking up an odd kind of friendship. When Emily asks Stephanie for the “simple favo
ur” of picking her son up from school, she happily obliges but Emily subsequently disappears and Stephanie soon takes it upon herself to find out just what happened to her new bestie, unravelling a complex plot filled with dark family secrets, forbidden love and murder.
First and foremost, this film completely revolves around its two central characters of Stephanie and Emily so for the film to work, getting these characters right is essential. Fortunately though, there’s no cause for concern because Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively are ideal in their respective roles and are the main reasons why the film works so well, due to their genuine chemistry and the way they eagerly each play around with their very different characters.
With Kendrick (who I only really know from her relatively brief role in Scott Pilgrim, having never seen a Pitch Perfect film), she provides the laughs in the sillier parts of the story when she shows her character to be so lovably awkward, naive and square, with her wonderfully expressive face and funny physical movements, but of course, her character’s no saint and as the bumbling veneer gradually fades and her secrets are exposed, she becomes something colder and darker, including a certain glimpse in her eye that suggests that she’s more than she lets on. Kendrick is in practically every scene and the film is better off for it; she confidently carries the feature and efficiently manages to nail the goofiness of her goody-two-shoes character and she winningly relishes the darker parts of her character as well.
Directly opposite Kendrick’s yin, Blake Lively completes the picture as the mysterious, cold, alluring and often intimidating Emily – the yang. While the awkward Stephanie provides the more warmhearted laughs, Lively’s character is more a conduit for the darker side of the comedy, cooly delivering the bold one-liners confidently and with the dryness of her favourite Martini; overall, she has fun inhabiting this enigmatic character – one who can easily twist people around her finger and then completely destroy their lives without batting an eyelid.
Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively form the backbone of the film but there’s also strong support which help strengthen the film as well. Actors like Jean Smart, Andrew Rannells, Rupert Friend, Bashir Salahuddin and Linda Cardellini all light up the screen at some point and straight out of his lovely debut performance in Crazy Rich Asians, the smooth Henry Golding sinks his teeth into a very different kind of role, playing another sweet and charming guy but one who also hides darkness within, and he’s a fine addition to the feature.
The story is particularly strong as it’s a complex and intriguing Hitchcockian plot, choc full of those twists and turns that you’d expect from a decent mystery/thriller, and there are plenty of well placed clues at the start of the film that you just know will come into play later on. The script is well written by Jessica Sharzer as the dialogue is snappy, clever and often genuinely funny and the overall story, adapted from the novel by Darcey Bell, is impressive as it is absorbing, intriguing and confidently constructed. And moving away from his trademark comedy schtick, director Paul Feig succeeds in helming this dark comedy, creating an appropriately moody and unpredictable thriller atmosphere while also slotting in the comedy at all the right moments.
A Simple Favor could have used a little more streamlining though because as it stands, the film seems about half an hour too long and as it moves into its endgame, you may just wish for it all to wrap up promptly, even though the onscreen developments are perfectly interesting to watch. There are also those numerous twists and turns and in a film like this, you just know that they’re just going to keep on coming, past the point when they should’ve stopped, but this is another area where it could’ve been streamlined because those false leads and misdirections should’ve been reigned in a tad.
A Simple Favor also has oodles of style (well, just check out Blake Lively’s . . . unique wardrobe) and in particular, it uses contemporary French pop/easy listening tracks to a marvellous effect, starting off with a chic rendition of Andy Williams’ “Music to Watch Girls By” which is played over the opening credits. And on that note, the super stylish opening/closing credits are like mini-movies in and of themselves and will surely end up being the best titles of this year, with those memorable musical accompaniments and Saul Bass inspired visuals (which was brought to my attention through Harris Dang’s review). With such stylish credits, you just have to stay until the end. Which I did.