A silly script is made worse by the director throwing a bunch of cinematic references and disparate genres into the film, writes
Good-looking people do not a good film make
Following the disappointing reception of his all-female Ghostbusters reboot, director Paul Feig ventures into black comedy territory for his adaptation of a novel by Darcey Bell. Calling to mind the domestic intrigue of shows like Big Little Lies and Desperate Housewives with some of the colourful satire of French director François Ozon and a hint of Alfred Hitchcock thrown in for good measure, A Simple Favor is a sometimes darkly funny but mostly absurd, patently ridiculous and silly tale of the shenanigans of American suburbia.
Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick) is a young single mother — the one who attends every parents’ meeting, volunteers for everything, makes her own craft work and runs a vlog in which she offers up mundane titbits of her life while sharing her recipe for zucchini soup.
She is deeply unpopular with the other mothers at her son’s school who detest her enthusiasm and goody-two-shoes naivety. Her popularity with them is not helped when she befriends the elegant martiniswigging, big-city fashion exec and fellow parent Emily (Blake Lively). When Emily takes Stephanie back to her gleaming modern house, divulges the secrets of the perfect martini, pops some Serge Gainsbourg on the sound system and introduces her to her hunky, struggling writer and rather stiff husband, Sean (Henry Golding), Stephanie is both overwhelmed and more than a touch envious of her new bestie’s seemingly perfect life.
Then one day Emily asks Stephanie for the simple favour of picking her child up from school. Emily disappears and things get crazy, turning quickly from funny, satirical deconstruction of suburban mores towards incoherent Gone Girl-style thriller with an obvious twist and an absurd resolution that does no favours for Feig’s attempt to prove his comic-noir abilities.
Stephanie uses her vlog to provide her followers with updates on her dig into Emily’s past and her investigation into what might have happened to her. She also begins inhabiting Emily’s enviable life. By the time the inevitable confrontation and convoluted conclusion arrive, the film and its characters have, much like Stephanie’s over-optimistic parent-teacher enthusiasm, overstayed their welcome.
That said, it’s not without its genuinely funny moments and both Kendrick and Lively give entertaining and adept
WHAT OTHER CRITICS SAY
“Kendrick and Lively have never been funnier, snapping one-liners at each other like elastic bands; the script is hyper-alert to the undercurrent of competitiveness between stay-at-home and working mums.” — Cath Clarke, UK Guardian
“With its martini-swilling leads and swingy French pop soundtrack, A Simple Favor seems to yearn for a bygone era of nail-biter, but rather than wallow in pastiche, it comes up with something truly contemporary feeling.” — Emily Yoshida, New York Magazine/ Vulture
“Once A Simple Favor hits the first of several I-can’t-believe-they-went there moments (there are a few too many), it loses some of its lure, and Feig never quite regains tonal control. But you won’t be bored by this.” — Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out
“Kendrick and Lively have the ability to paper over all that’s missing from the film and offer it a satisfying illusion of fullness.” — Richard Brody, New Yorker
performances in spite of the increasing silliness of the script. Kendrick has always had an impish, not-quite-the-good-girlyou-think-she-is quality that gives her a comic ability that’s hard not to like, and Lively gets to exercise her bitchy-mean-girl persona to good effect. The weakest link is Golding, who mostly wanders around looking handsome while reflecting less real emotion than a cardboard cut-out.
Neither Kendrick nor Lively can save the film from its ambitious attempt to marry too many genres into a story that jumps around between tones more than an interior decorator’s sample book and never manages to settle into being either a satisfying satire or a compelling mystery.
Feig’s decision to throw a bunch of disparate genres and cinematic references at the material only serves to show up its shortcomings rather than bolster the overall execution. What could have been a satisfying addition to the comic-noir genre ends up being a pretty pointless, silly and easily forgettable mishmash of styles and tones that never truly engages.
You’re mostly left with an admiration for Lively’s wardrobe, the smooth delights of the French pop soundtrack and a useful martini recipe. But you could have got all of that from a three-minute vodka advert, which would have been more satisfying than this schizophrenic mess of a film.
A Simple Favor is on circuit