Sunday Times

MOVIES

A silly script is made worse by the di­rec­tor throw­ing a bunch of cin­e­matic ref­er­ences and dis­parate gen­res into the film, writes

- Tymon Smith Entertainment · Movies · Humor · Literature · Arts · François Ozon · Alfred Hitchcock · Anna Kendrick · Blake Lively · Gone Girl · United Kingdom · New York City · Satire · Paul Feig · Big Little Lies · A Simple Favor · Serge Gainsbourg · Henry Golding

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

 ??  ?? Stephanie Smoth­ers (Anna Ken­drick) watches Emily (Blake Lively) and hus­band Sean (Henry Gold­ing).
Stephanie Smoth­ers (Anna Ken­drick) watches Emily (Blake Lively) and hus­band Sean (Henry Gold­ing).

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