Every week, the folks at iTunes find a movie they like and make it available to rent for the low, low price of $0.99. I’m here to tell you whether that film is worth your hard-earned dollar.
This week, a widowed mommy vlogger tries to find out what happened to her missing friend in A Simple Favor.
She’s An Enigma My Wife
When she’s not busy doting over her own son, Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) is passing on tips to others mom’s via her parenting vlog. When she makes friends with Emily (Blake Lively) – the snooty, secretive mom of her son’s classmate – Stephanie’s comfortably humdrum existence is dramatically upended. After Emily vanishes without a trace, upended quickly spins to out of control as Stephanie tries to piece together the complex puzzle of her new friend’s disappearance. As every new puzzle piece is placed, a disturbing new picture begins to take shape, and Stephanie soon realizes she didn’t know her friend at all. Welcome to the sexy, savvy, frequently funny, and surprisingly prescient little mystery that is A Simple Favor.
Oh, You Don’t Want To Be Friends With Me
With such varied descriptors, one might be left to wonder if A Simple Favor isn’t a tone shift, or plot twist away from farce. In truth, the film often feels as if it’s headed down that fateful road, and just as often seems like it’s dying to push its characters into full on slapstick. Given that the film was directed by current comedic maestro Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, Ghostbusters, and about half-dozen of the best shows on television over the past decade), a farcical leap would all but seem pre-ordained. Somehow, Feig & Co. manage to contain the urge to make a joke out of A Simple Favor, opting instead to craft a sexy, pseudo-comedic caper in the vein of 1998’s Wild Things.
If there’s a film that feels like a legit template for A Simple Favor it’s that marvelous (and tragically misunderstood) crime romp. Even two decades after its release, Wild Things remains a finely tuned genre experiment that always seemed to know when to play silly, when to play sensual, and when to play nasty. Feig never fully embraces any of those tonal devices long enough for one to shine through in his noir-tinged mystery, but he tweaks that tawdry, tight-rope of a trifecta just enough to make a cryptic, mischievously meandering lark of A Simple Plan.
As with any film attempting such narrative nimbleness, much of A Simple Favor‘s success lay squarely at the feet of its estimable cast. If Feig’s film manages to best Wild Things in any capacity (and I’m not implying it does), it’s due to the work of his stars Kendrick and Lively. Of Kendrick’s performance, I’ll offer that it’s crisp, witty, and brimming with a cunning mix of intelligent naiveté and introverted sexuality – which means it’s essentially on par with every other role in the actor’s impressive body of work. Of Lively, I’ll simply say she delivers a magnetic, powerhouse performance as the mysterious Emily that commands your eye and your ear for every single moment she’s on-screen.
Therein lies the central problem with A Simple Favor – i.e. the story turns on the fact that Lively’s character disappears, and is therefore all but absent after the films first act. The absence of that character is, of course, designed to create a vacuum in the lives of every character in her orbit. Unfortunately, that vacuum carries throughout the entire second act of the film, leaving much of A Simple Favor‘s narrative lacking in both intrigue and energy. Kendrick very nearly saves the day on pure charisma alone – bolstered by the white-hot chemistry she shares with co-star Henry Golding – but sans Lively’s enigmatic presence, the second act of this film is a bit of a slog.
The good news is that, if you manage to slog through, Feig & Co. more than get A Simple Favor back on track in a third act that – even when it teeters on camp – twists and turns and twists again in delightfully devious ways … though the film’s biggest twist will be blatantly obvious to any half-astute viewers. Still, what A Simple Plan does with even its telegraphed twist sort of adds to the fun, and if you’re adventurous enough to just go along for the ride, you’ll find you’re in for a pretty damn enjoyable trip.
You bet. Though A Simple Favor really does drag through its second act, the film more than satisfies via the first and third. It also proves an impressive showcase for the ever evolving Blake Lively, who has been on a bit of a roll over the past few years (see also 2016’s The Shallows). Of course, if you’re already a fan of Lively (or her co-star Anna Kendrick), you know that they are becoming two of the most compelling actors of the current generation, which makes A Simple Favor sort of required viewing. If not, see previous sentence and fork over that $0.99 with full confidence.