A Simple Favor

A SIMPLE FAVOR is an entertaining thriller from known-for-comedy director Paul Feig (THE HEAT). He brings to it some humor and his obvious rapport with the great casts he puts together, but if we had to categorize it we’d be forced to put it in with GONE GIRL, because it’s a twisty mystery based on a recent book by a female author and with entertainingly amoral, even wicked female characters.

Stephanie (Anna Kendrick, THE ACCOUNTANT) is a widowed “mommy vlogger” who, in between cooking and crafting demos, has been filling her subscribers in on the disappearance of her “best friend” Emily (Blake Lively, GREEN LANTERN). Even from the bits of vlog we see, before the omniscience of cinema kicks in, this seems fishy, because she admits she’s only known Emily for a few weeks. Their sons are in school together and tried to set up a playdate, causing intimidating fashionable rich mean lady Emily to begrudgingly bring Stephanie to her (extremely modern) house after school for drinks.

The heart of the movie is the attempted friendship between these opposites. Stephanie is what they call “basic.” A dork. She’s self conscious enough to constantly be awkward and embarrassed, but not enough to stop herself from blabbering about the different animals available on Target socks or the “oopsie jar” she fills with coins when she swears. Emily by contrast wryly complains about everything, loves drinking and chewing out her boss over the phone, makes Stephanie uncomfortable with frank talk and naked pictures, and constantly looks amused by her.

Lively genuinely gives one of my favorite performances of the year, a potential villain magnetic enough to steal my sympathies from the nicer protagonist. She always seems above everything, especially rules and expectations – societal, legal, even fashion, because she specializes in wearing outfits that normal people wouldn’t be able to get away with. But she does it with the charisma of a cult leader, so instead of making her seem like a jerk she comes off as an inspirational figure. She keeps telling Stephanie not to apologize for anything, which is a warning sign that she doesn’t care about other people, but she gets away with it because Stephanie, like many women, is too apologetic for her own good.

Emily is a female equivalent to the lovable asshole anti-heroes of so many movies, especially in the ’80s. She’s a mess and a terror and she sometimes convinces me yeah, but she earned it. She’s chaos on expensive name brand heels, so much so that when she gets Stephanie to pick up her kid from school and then is unreachable and seems to have taken off to Miami it takes days before it seems more likely to be an emergency than a scam to get free babysitting.

Emily’s ridiculously handsome husband Sean (Henry Golding, CRAZY RICH ASIANS) is out of town, but flies home and Stephanie, being the mommy vlogger, helps him look after his son, winds up living in the house, making fancy meals, trying on Emily’s dresses, denying her attraction to Sean. We know unless there’s some real narrative fuckery going on (apparently the book does use unreliable narrator tricks) that Stephanie is an innocent bystander in all this, but now she’s starting to act a little bit single white female. And the kid, Nicky, gets all “You’re not my mom!” and, more ominously, keeps claiming to have seen his real mom.

Much like the widows in WIDOWS, Stephanie finds she has talents she never would’ve thought of before – remembering Emily’s Never Say You’re Sorry lessons in not giving a fuck she pushes her way into Emily’s place of employment, breaks into her office, starts following clues and doing detective work, and it gets twisty in an outlandish way. Not WILD THINGS level, but fun.

The casting of small parts is as good as the big ones. I was impressed by Emily’s fashion designer boss (Rupert Friend, HITMAN: AGENT 47) and his minions, who look exactly the highest level of on-the-nose before pushing over into parody. And Feig’s Freaks & Geeks star Linda Cardellini (KILL THE IRISHMAN) has a good scene as a tough girl painter. It also looks good and has a legitimate tone of danger and mystery except, in my opinion, a major (if brief) tonal misstep right at the climax. We’ve built up real suspense and excitement about who will prevail between two compromised anti-heroines and then out of the blue another character intervenes with an out-and-out silly comedy one-liner. The ANIMAL HOUSE style text updates at the end also seem to have come from the broad comedy that Feig so carefully avoided making through 99% of the running time.

Yes, the soundtrack of ’60s French pop tunes (lots of Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot) gives the whole thing a quirky upbeat feel, and there’s a really funny scene where Stephanie expresses her feelings of empowerment by rapping along with the M.O.P. classic “Ante Up” in her car, but for most of the movie it feels like the mystery and suspense are the important part, so the jokey-ness right at the end seems like it crosses a line to me.

Still, A SIMPLE FAVOR is worthwhile for these two performances and characters in the middle. I have enjoyed Lively in SAVAGES and THE SHALLOWS, but this definitely moves her up my list of interesting actors to keep an eye on.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 23rd, 2019 at 10:54 am and is filed under Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

11 Responses to “A Simple Favor”

  1. This was one of the most straight up fun and enjoyable movies I saw last year. One of those films you can recommend to pretty much anyone and know they’ll have a good time.
    I’m glad you called out that (SPOILER?) Melissa McCarthy Movie ridiculous scene at the end though. I remember reading some reviews at the time and no one mentioned it at all, leaving me to think I was the only weirdo that found it jarring.

  2. I liked this one a lot, and I’d actually be down for a couple more of these mommy vlogger/private detective stories they kind of set up at the end (despite having convinced myself halfway through that Anna Kendrick’s character would turn out to be a murderer- too obvious, maybe).

    I have to say, though, I don’t recall what the tonally-jarring line at the climax might be. I guess I didn’t notice it at the time. If I had to point to any problems I had with the plot, I guess it would just be that the sheer speed at which Kendrick moves into the house and takes over was weird to me.

  3. Loved this. Paul Feig has been on my “will watch anything he directs” list since Spy. This one reminded me of those ‘90s thrillers like the aforementioned Single White Female and Handbag That Rocks the Cradle.

    Kurgan, I think he meant a certain andrew Rannells moment. Didn’t ruin it for me but I can see the resolution should’ve stayed on Blake and Anna.

  4. I’m really, really not the biggest Paul Feig fan*, but as a man who is always interested in what happens if a director tries something different, I will give it a look.

    *As I mentioned a few times earlier, his “Let’s humiliate the protagonist(s) until it is more sad then funny and then do it hundred times more” style of comedy borders on sociopatic in my eyes and because of this, his uncynical christmas kids comedy UNACCOMPANIED MINORS is so far the only one of his joints that I fully enjoyed.

  5. Fred- oh, that would make sense. I had kind of forgotten about the three “Greek chorus” type characters- I think either they should have had more to do or been cut entirely to be honest. As it stands they were just kind of…there, occasionally.

  6. I loved this one. It’s one of my top favorites of 2018. The balance between quirky and tense was fantastic. I had no idea where they were going to go. Was she just weird or a psycho? That went for both of the characters. The mystery solving was my favorite part. That balance is shown well in that scene where Stephanie is posing as a maid. I started out thinking, “No maid would wear wedge shoes!” and ended with, “Wow, she’s really good at this.”

    I did like Lively’s performance, but I wouldn’t go as far as Vern with the love. Maybe she really was that great, but I never went from the “asshole anti-hero” to the “lovable asshole anti-hero” who “earned it”. And that could totally be due to personal experience of too many manipulative girls like that when I was a pre-teen/young teen.

    I did think Kendrick’s performance, however, was incredible. She could be Feig’s new collaborator with great success. I would’ve honestly believed her character going either way – total psycho killer or naïve, sweet dork. And the BALLS on them with her deep, dark secret!


    That was some serious taboo crap to give the heroine of your movie. They handled it masterfully – both Feig and Kendrick. I loved that it was never clear if she continued sleeping with her brother after getting married or who the father of her son was. That’s some dark, morally questionable shit and she somehow still maintained this sweetness. Bravo.

    I would love to see more of her detective stories. And throw in Emily as either a nemesis or partner. Both would be great.

  7. Haven’t seen this, but I’m feeling like I should now after reading that review. And Fred just reminded me that Feig directed SPY, and I could quote that, or at least Statham’s Rick Ford, all day. But I won’t.

    Indeed, the two funniest performances I saw that year, or since even, were Statham in SPY and LeBron James in TRAIN WRECK. I did not see that coming.

  8. I really, really enjoyed this movie for 95 per cent of the run time, I was sure I was going to end up highly recommending it, but the ending really erased all my good willI disliked it even more than Vern. I groaned at the broad climax with Andrew Rannells, then groaned again at the text updates before the credits (more on that in the second), and I groaned the loudest at the broad comedy tag in the prison. The ending really undercut the movie, in my opinion.

    Those text updates really have no place in fictional dramas, I don’t think. In documentaries or movies based on true stories, fair enough. And if a broad comedy uses them to fit in a few more jokes, I’m fine with that too (though I thought Bluto becoming a Senator was a lot funnier before I learned how uncomfortably accurate it was). Everything else needs to cut it out. I don’t even like it in That Thing You Do!, which should probably get a little leeway because the movie is kind of analogous to a rise-and-fall band documentary. But the ending should be Guy and Faye kissing. They finally got together, that’s the ending. That’s the moment you should be leaving the theater on. I think that moment is cheapened and lessened by following it up with their fake life story. Because they’re fictional characters in a movie, so no they didn’t move to Venice and then Washington and open up a jazz conservatory or whatever. If it’s important that we know that (it’s not), then we should see it for ourselves.

    Anyway, I thought the text updates here were particularly egregious because they were so cheesey. Not only does Stephanie’s blog become a TV show, but she also opens up a private detective agency on the side that has “brought over thirty fugitives to justice.” Ugh.

  9. JTS how would you feel if it ended with Henry Golding proposing to Anna Kendrick and she accepts? Because that’s the original ending they had. He stages a flash mob with her school kids. It’s fun but I’m kinda ok with the text captions.

  10. This was pretty great. In fact I think Feig is extremely underrated filmmaker. Spy, Bridesmaids, this. The Heat is very good as well.

    Yes, Blake is great. But Kendrick is the one here for me. I thought she was completely amazing.

    Going in, I thought this was going to be a much lighter movie. But by the time the stepbrother scene came, I knew this was going to go to some pretty fucked-up places. The two main characters are so great and complex, that I had no idea where the story was gonna go.

    I agree that it should have ended with the vlog scene, no end texts needed. But I still loved it.

  11. I enjoyed this one a lot, too. A lot of fun.

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