Anchored by two awesomely good performances, A Simple Favor by director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, Spy) shows that his foray into a bit darker territory is certainly worthy. While the movie goes off the rails at the end, it’s a fun, twisty, snarky tale until then. And though the film is not without mistakes, it does a lot to improve upon the source material, a book that was a bit too preposterous without the wit and charm of the film.
Anna Kendrick is Stephanie, a single mommy vlogger who channels all of her energy into being a super mom, and making the other moms (and dad) at her kids’ school jealous and/or annoyed with her. All except for Emily (Blake Lively), the fancy, caustic, stunner whose son Nicky is best friends with Stephanie’s son, Miles. The moms bond over martinis, until one day after enlisting Stephanie to pick up her son from school, Emily disappears. And then everything starts to shift.
Kendrick uses her goofy charm to full effect here, as she makes Stephanie both sweetly naïve, and yet smarter and more interesting than she was in the novel. As Stephanie tries to uncover the truth about what happened to Emily, she also comes to terms with some of her own darker secrets. Lively, who has hardly ever made an impression in anything, is a lot of fun here, as her ice-cold demeanor and brutally honest Emily is electrifying every moment she’s on screen. Waffling between the two women is Crazy Rich Asians’ leading man Henry Golding as Sean, Emily’s husband. While his character gets a little lost in the plot twists, he’s still able to hold his own with the powerhouses he’s acting with.
Feig can’t help but inject a fair amount of humor into the film, which doesn’t quite reach thriller status because of the laughs. While the jokes feel tonally right (save for a big dud involving an old man with a shotgun), it does soften the impact of some key moments. There are some great shocks throughout, and thanks to the biting script by Jessica Sharzer, a lot of interesting interplay between the two leads.
The ending does veer a bit too far away from the established sensibility of the film, but it’s ultimately a more satisfying conclusion than the one in the novel. Even if the plot disappoints, the performances never do and Lively and Kendrick are a lot of fun throughout. An all-too-brief appearance by Jean Smart also livens things up, and the chorus of single moms at the school (led by Andrew Rannells) is thankfully used sparingly.
My Grade – B-