A Sim­ple Fa­vor

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - CINEMA -

Stephanie Smoth­ers (Anna Ken­drick) is a wid­owed sin­gle mother who runs a mom vlog with crafts and recipes. Later, Stephanie dis­cusses the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into, and her feel­ings sur­round­ing the dis­ap­pear­ance of her best friend, Emily Nel­son (Blake Lively). In a flash­back, Emily is a busy work­ing mother, as a PR direc­tor for a fash­ion com­pany, whose son Nicky at­tends the same el­e­men­tary school as Stephanie’s son, Miles. Emily and Stephanie be­come fast friends, ar­rang­ing play dates for the boys and hav­ing cock­tails at Emily’s house.

They trade con­fes­sions, and Stephanie ad­mits that as a teenager, af­ter her fa­ther died, she had sex with her half­brother, Chris (Dustin Mil­li­gan), which Emily play­fully teases her about. Emily ex­presses her frus­tra­tion at the lack of suc­cess of her hus­band, Sean Townsend (Henry Gold­ing), an English pro­fes­sor and writer, and their poor fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion. One day, Emily has a work cri­sis and asks Stephanie to babysit Nicky af­ter school, to which she hap­pily obliges be­cause Sean is in Lon­don.

Af­ter two days of Emily not re­spond­ing to calls, Stephanie calls her em­ployer, Den­nis Ny­lon, and they tell her she is in Mi­ami for a few days. Stephanie also calls Sean, who says Emily has done this in the past, and they call the po­lice. While talk­ing to the de­tec­tives, Sean men­tions that Emily had no fam­ily, while she pre­vi­ously told Stephanie she had a sis­ter. Stephanie men­tions to Sean that she learned Emily hates hav­ing her pic­ture taken, and Sean con­firms a sim­i­lar in­ci­dent, but nei­ther learn why. Stephanie goes to the Den­nis Ny­lon head­quar­ters and sneaks into Emily’s of­fice and finds a photo of her, cap­tioned with “Gotta Have Faith,” and uses it to cre­ate miss­ing per­son posters.

De­tec­tive Sum­mervile (Bashir Salahud­din) re­ports to Sean that Emily lied about tak­ing a trip to Mi­ami, and in­stead rented a white Kia in Michi­gan. A fan of Stephanie’s vlog re­ports see­ing Emily in Michi­gan, and the car is dis­cov­ered near a sum­mer camp, Squaw Lake Bible Camp. The po­lice find her drowned body in the wa­ter. Stephanie and Sean de­velop a bond through grief and tak­ing care of the boys, which turns into a re­la­tion­ship and Stephanie moves in with him. De­tec­tive Sum­mervile later re­veals to Stephanie that Emily had se­vere liver dam­age, a large amount of heroin in her sys­tem, and that Sean had re­cently taken out a $4 mil­lion life in­sur­ance pol­icy on Emily.

Emily, who is ap­par­ently alive and in hid­ing and is up­set at the turn of events, sends Stephanie an in­sult­ing mes­sage about her se­cret tryst with Chris. In a flash­back, Stephanie’s hus­band, Davis (Eric John­son), sus­pected the re­la­tion­ship and ques­tioned the pa­ter­nity of Miles. Davis con­fronted Chris dur­ing a car ride, which re­sulted in a crash that killed them both. Stephanie be­gins her own in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Emily’s past, speak­ing to Diana Hy­land (Linda Cardellini), an artist who painted a por­trait of Emily. Diana says the girl in the paint­ing is Clau­dia, her muse, and de­scribes her as a con artist who sud­denly dis­ap­peared. Stephanie asks her about Michi­gan, and Diana gives Stephanie an old T-shirt from a sum­mer camp which Emily at­tended. Stephanie goes to the camp and dis­cov­ers an old year­book show­ing that Emily has a twin sis­ter, and that their real names are Hope and Faith McLan­den.

Stephanie then meets with the twins’ mother, Mar­garet (Jean Smart), who iden­ti­fies Faith in the pic­ture used for the miss­ing posters. She ex­plains that when they were 16 years old the twins had set fire to a wing of the house. Emily sur­prises Sean at a cafe and tells him about her plan to col­lect the in­sur­ance money to re­solve their fi­nan­cial is­sues and be­come a stay at home mom, threat­en­ing to take him down with her if the plan does not work.

Mean­while, af­ter re­search­ing the lo­cal ar­son records, Stephanie is able to lure Emily into meet­ing her at a ceme­tery through cryp­tic mes­sages on her vlog. Emily ex­plains that the twins burned down the part of the man­sion where their abu­sive fa­ther was. The two had split up while on the run to keep a low pro­file, and planned where to meet up af­ter the dust set­tled, but Faith never ap­peared. Emily worked hard build­ing a ca­reer and a life with a great fam­ily. 16 years later, Faith con­tacted her and asked to meet at Squaw Lake. Faith at­tempted to black­mail her for a mil­lion dol­lars and threat­ened to con­fess about the ar­son, tak­ing them both down, and Emily drowned Faith in the lake. Emily lies and tells Stephanie the plan was Sean’s to use her sis­ter’s death as an op­por­tu­nity to get out of debt and flee the coun­try.

Emily is an­gered by Sean’s love for Stephanie. Stephanie, like­wise, is an­gered by Sean’s ea­ger­ness to re­join Emily, upon dis­cov­er­ing that she is still alive. Stephanie agrees to help Emily reap­pear to the pub­lic and frame Sean for phys­i­cal abuse and in­sur­ance fraud. Sean is ar­rested, in­dicted, and re­leased on bail. Stephanie has a change of heart and stages a fake ar­gu­ment with Sean in front of Emily to in­crim­i­nate her, while po­li­ce­planted mi­cro­phones are record­ing in the back­ground. Emily pre­dicts their ruse and cuts the mi­cro­phones be­fore­hand. Emily con­fesses to the crimes, and holds the pair at gun­point, telling them she will kill them both and make it look like a mur­der-sui­cide. She shoots Sean in the shoul­der and turns the gun on Stephanie. Stephanie then re­veals that she has a hid­den cam­era livestream­ing the en­tire event on her vlog. Emily runs into the street, where she is hit by a car, and is then ar­rested.

The film con­cludes with text ex­plain­ing that Emily was sen­tenced to 20 years in prison. Sean was cleared of all charges and be­came a suc­cess­ful pro­fes­sor at a ma­jor uni­ver­sity. Stephanie’s vlog ex­panded to one mil­lion view­ers, and her suc­cess in han­dling Emily’s case led her to be­come a part-time pri­vate de­tec­tive.

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