Courtesy of Lionsgate
Paul Feig, best known for his R rated comedy pythons: “Bridesmaids,” “The Heat,” and “Spy” is traveling down an unusual path. His latest, the dark and twisted comedy “A Simple Favor,” combines Hitchcockian vibes with a splash of “Gone Girl” to mixed results.
Though not as shocking, or intriguing as “Girl,” the film manages to be decent enough to get the job done. Mostly due to lead stars Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively and “Crazy Rich Asians” breakout Henry Golding playing up the campier and trashier side of the screenplay.
The script, penned by Jessica Shrazer, based on Darvey Bell's novel, puts Lively and Kendrick in a different vehicle playing best friends (more so acquaintances with the title) Stephanie Smothers and Emily Nelson. Smothers, recently struck with tragedy, runs a mommy vlog that manages thousands of subscribers daily.
She's the type of mom that prepares for all emergencies, volunteers for any opportunity the school will allow, and has an “oopsie” jar in which you must deposit a quarter if you exclaim a naughty curse word. Meanwhile, Nelson couldn't be more opposite if she tried: a big time publicist for a high-end fashion designer, who drinks strong martinis like water, for some strange reason doesn't like her picture taken, and has the attitude of a college student just going with the flow.
The two provide an interesting contrast to the other, and each bring their own values and talents to this toxic sisterhood relationship. Kendrick, in particular, is right at home playing the bubbly Smothers, who's just so innocent with her dialogue you almost feel bad. (The school gossip circle headed by Andrew Rannells also tends to have a laugh at her expense). Lively, in one of her best roles, steps out of her comfort zone, delivering a strong balance of badass with mystery. You can never quite put a finger on her character, and with Feig calling the shots that's not such a bad thing.
The cryptic pot becomes more stirred once Emily vanishes without a trace. Last seen three days prior asking Stephanie for “A simple favor” (picking up her son from school) thus forcing the worst case scenario: is she dead? Inconsistencies start to pile up, and its not long before Emily's pretty boy husband Seth (Golding – terrific) gets roped into the situation. Secrets and skeletons in the closet unspool in an obsessively unique fashion, proving (if it already wasn't established) that Feig can be versatile.
Provided those examples, you'd think “A Simple Favor” - attempting to be the snazzy and sophisticated thriller it thinks it is - wouldn't hurl so many red herrings at the audience. Considering, in pure Hitchcock fashion, the film is equipped with its fair share of twists and turns, it struggles to feel complete. The final twenty minutes has a mad grab energy which tries to be slick, but only exposes its overly antic plot developments. Signifying that Feig is clearly gunning for a certain method of storytelling: “Let's jam so much exposition down their throats, that something must stick!”
A good chunk of those ideas do land their mark, except Feig doesn't care if it throws us off balance in the process.