Directed by: Paul Feig
Premise: Based on the novel by Darcey Bell. An overeager single mom (Anna Kendrick) investigates the disappearance of a mysterious woman (Blake Lively) she had just gotten to know.
What Works: A Simple Favor is an enjoyable and high energy mystery. It’s playing in the same sandbox as Gone Girl and Big Little Lies but A Simple Favor has a distinct tone. This film was directed by Paul Feig, best known for making comedies like Spy and Bridesmaids and this may be Fieg’s best film so far. It’s more consistent and disciplined than some of his other movies and it is also more ambitious. A Simple Favor includes some complex narrative twists and the film is well edited, cutting to past events in the middle of a conversation and filling in the character’s omissions and loading them with significance. The tone of A Simple Favor is also curious. The story is fundamentally dark and veers into taboo subject matter but the production design and cinematic style is very light. The discord between the subject matter and the look of the movie works for A Simple Favor. The chic outfits and elegant interior spaces become unsettling. This is also a playful film and it has a lot of fun with the mystery. For most of the picture, the mystery is impenetrable and the filmmakers keep us guessing. A Simple Favor also succeeds because of its performances. This film is perfectly cast, especially its leads. Anna Kendrick is the over ambitious single mother and Kendrick uses her awkward shtick to full effect. She is paired with Blake Lively as the disappeared fashionista and Lively perfectly embodies the adult Mean Girls persona of her character. Lively is vicious and funny and she toys with Kendrick’s character like a cat with an insect. Also notable is Henry Golding as the husband of the disappeared woman. The story allows his character some moral ambiguity and Goulding plays that up effectively.
What Doesn’t: A Simple Favor wobbles in its final stretch. The story unveils too much too fast. A lot of key revelations are just spelled out and handed over to the protagonist and to the audience instead of won through negotiation and investigation. The climax of the film is especially weak. Some of that is due to the story’s clumsy reveals but the film also fails to ramp up the stakes and the tension as it gets to the ending. The story flattens just as it needs to reach its emotional peak. The ending is also a problem because of its tone. Throughout, A Simple Favor manages a delicate balance of awkward black comedy but the filmmakers lose their grip on the tone in the ending. That’s partly the fault of Anna Kendrick. She’s quite good in most of the film but her performance is out of tune with the climax of this movie. The adorable awkwardness that she does so well is inappropriate in the ending and zaps whatever tension remained. It’s also worth pointing out that A Simple Favor is not based on a true story. This is fiction adapted from a novel but the picture ends on a coda that fills in the future of the characters and gives the impression that the story is pulled from the headlines. This is an annoying tactic in dramatic storytelling and it is unnecessary here.
Bottom Line: A Simple Favor is a fun mystery with a great cast and a playful tone. Although it stumbles in the end, this is a satisfying piece of entertainment with some great performances.
Episode: #717 (September 23, 2018)