Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively star in a stylish and killer comedy-thriller from Bridesmaids director Paul Feig.
Impeccably dressed and poised for success, Paul Feig’s new comedy-thriller A Simple Favor is one of the sharpest comedies of the year. It’s also one of the most dastardly thrillers in recent memory. And somewhere inside of it there’s a recipe for zucchini chocolate chip cookies that probably tastes better than it sounds.
A Simple Favor stars Anna Kendrick as Stephanie Smothers, a “Mommy Blogger” with a web series that teaches fellow moms how to combine baked goods and origami, and make other charmingly elaborate treats. Stephanie is a perfect mom, whose son is best friends with a boy whose mother, Emily Nelson, is perfect in different kinds of ways.
Blake Lively plays Emily as a golden age Hollywood star, decked out in the perfect tuxedo attire of Greta Garbo. She’s crass and inappropriate; when Stephanie suggests their sons have a playdate, Emily says, “Mommy already has a playdate with a symphony of antidepressants.” Stephanie is clearly attracted to the affluence, the style and the sultry sexuality of Emily, while Emily is clearly attracted to the fact that Stephanie can be exploited as a free babysitting service.
One day, Emily asks Stephanie for “a simple favor,” to pick her son up from school while she has an emergency at work. But a simple favor becomes a complex mystery when Emily never returns home. Days go by, and Emily’s husband Sean (Henry Golding) – who was out of the country, visiting his sick mother – finally files a missing person’s report.
Did Emily run away? Is she missing? Is she dead? A Simple Favor has it every which way, twisting and reversing its plot to cover all the bases. The mystery unfolds one way, then folds back up again to unfold into a different position. Only a few things are certain: it’s more complicated than it first appears, it’s insidiously suspenseful, and it’s funny as hell.
Paul Feig has earned his reputation as the director of the blockbuster comedy Bridesmaids, but his subsequent films – like Spy, The Heat and Ghostbusters – all suffer from the same problem. They may be funny but they’re frustratingly shabby, with plots that dangle by the wayside in order to let the comedians riff to their hearts’ content, pacing be damned.
A Simple Favor isn’t just a delivery system for improvisation. It’s a tightly plotted puzzle box screenplay with delightful dialogue and creepy themes. There’s a lot more to Emily than you might expect, but there’s also a lot more to Stephanie. Some of the revelations about characters you like will shift your expectations of what A Simple Favor is, and what it’s about to become. Those expectations will probably be dashed long before the credits roll, in one spry twist after another.
Anna Kendrick completely owns this motion picture, which seems to have been tailor made just for her. She’s a natural comedic talent, with pitch perfect timing of an expression that always looks like she’s about to turn to the camera and ask if we can really believe what’s happening. The chemistry she has with Blake Livey – perfectly cast as an impeccable style model whose abilities should never be underestimated – is intimate, sensual, but always a little at arm’s length. Their relationship is based on jealousy and condescension, even though only one of them seems to realize it.
A Simple Favor probably doesn’t need to be nearly two hours long, and could almost certainly have wrapped itself up a little quicker. But the running time does give Paul Feig time to let his audience get used to each new revelation, and think maybe – just maybe – the movie has given up all its secrets, and is finally settling down. Don’t be fooled.
Or rather, go ahead and be fooled. Letting this witty thriller get the best of you is half the fun.