By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Director Paul Feig, the comedic mind behind TV’s Freaks and Geeks and films Bridesmaids and Spy, makes his first entry in the mystery thriller genre and the results are fantastic. With A Simple Favor, Feig brings his comic talents to a story that even Hitchcock would savor. The gifted director shows much versatility and prowess as he juggles both the dark and lighter sides of this story well and manages to leave audiences both flabbergasted and well entertained. To make things even more enjoyable and enticing, the tremendous performances by both Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick make A Simple Favor a devilishly wicked and sweet dessert of a film.
Kendrick stars as Martha Stewart wannabe vlogger and dedicated widowed mother Stephanie Smothers. Because most of her life is dedicated to the care of her son Miles (Joshua Satine), and to sharing her motherly tips with her viewers, Stephanie does feel some loneliness, as she has no real adult friends of her own. When glamorous workaholic mom Emily Nelson (Lively) invites her for a drink in her home to allow their children to play, Stephanie jumps at tge opportunity to make a new friend. Though dynamically different, the two mothers bond and develop an unexpected friendship. When Emily suddenly disappears for a few days, the tenacious Stephanie turns sleuth to try to find her missing friend. As Stephanie digs deeper into Emily’s current life and history, she gets more than she expected and finds that she may be in over her head.
Based on the novel of the same name by Darcie Bell, A Simple Favor is simply one of the more delightful surprises of the year. With a great screenplay by Jessica Sharzer, Paul Feig delivers a movie that is not only riveting and exciting, but one that is very funny and enchanting. Feig and Sharzer offer their audiences laughs, thrills, and surprises and do so with much style and panache. This is a movie that is very much a descendant of Alfred Hitchcock and one that would please him as a grandfather is pleased with the work of his grandchildren. The film does stall and stumbles a little after the main reveals are exposed, but these falters do not take much away from the overall experience.
I was also highly impressed with the acting of both Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick. Kendrick puts much tireless energy and earnestness into her role as the sweet and seemingly tireless Stephanie Smothers. I absolutely enjoyed watching her on the screen in this movie and fell in love with her character. Though Kendrick stars as the lady one could take home to mom, Lively portrays the seductive and possibly more enticing character as Emily Nelson. Lively not only perfectly embodies this character, she makes her feel real and likable for her unabashed and unapologetic ways. It is a role that exudes sex appeal and strength, but in some occasionally frightening ways.
The movie also stars Henry Golding as Emily’s husband Sean. The actor who recently has made a big splash with the successful Crazy Rich Asians once again shows why he is destined for more great work in Hollywood. The movie also features some amusing turns by actors Andrew Rannells, Kelly McCormack, Aparna Nancherla, Andrew Moody, and Rupert Friend.
Though the film’s marketing has promoted this movie as a completely serious mystery thriller, I feel that this approach really does the film a disservice. I feel that while the writer and director handle the serious beats well, they manage to incorporate a naturally witty and enjoyable humor that keeps things on an even keel. Still, this movie is no spoof of mystery thrillers. However, the well-executed humor keeps the whole experience from being completely dour and depressing. Such is life sometimes and certainly is a take of which ole Hitch would approve. After all, the man did make a dark comedy out of the discovery of a dead body (The Trouble With Harry).