In A Simple Favor, director Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids,” the new “Ghostbusters”) has crafted a sophisticated mystery featuring bravura performances by Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively.
Based on the book of the same name by Darcey Bell, the film starts out retro cool with 1960’s-style opening credits of alternating images from the movie superimposed on color swatches. This mood is complemented by the inclusion of French pop songs by the likes of Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot.
The story begins at a school in Connecticut with Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick) being the personification of the perfect Mom that every other mother hates. She is not only an expert at food preparation and crafts, but also volunteers for every available task at every opportunity. In her spare time, she has a daily vlog for other single parents where she shares her insights and projects. She also is oblivious to the fact of what others think of her.
On this particular day, her son Miles (Joshua Satine) and his playmate Nicky Nelson (Ian Ho) want to have a playdate. Stephanie needs to have permission from Nicky’s mother. When Emily Nelson (Blake Lively) gets out of her car, not is only is she drop-dead stylish, but she is ruthlessly frank and says whatever she wants without a filter.
Emily invites Stephanie over for a drink while their kids play. Emily works in public relations for a clothing designer. Her husband Sean (Henry Golding) wrote a bestseller years ago and was the literary talk of the town. But since then he has not produced another novel so now teaches English at a university.
Stephanie offers to take care of Nicky if Emily is too busy at work. Emily takes her up on the offer in the future. Then one day, Emily doesn’t show up to pick up her son. When Stephanie tries to reach her, she doesn’t answer her phone. Her workplace says that she went to Miami.
Meanwhile, Sean is in England on a family matter. He returns after Emily calls and they contact the police. Stephanie goes on her vlog to share the situation with her viewers. One of them gives a tip and Emily’s dead body is pulled from a lake in Michigan.
Stephanie and Sean start to spend more time together. They end up becoming a couple and Stephanie moves into Emily’s house. But then Nicky says that he saw his Mom outside the school. At first, Sean and Stephanie are disbelieving. But then Stephanie gets a phone call and she becomes an amateur detective determined to discover the truth about Emily.
This is a very clever story and a fascinating character study of the two main leads. It does a wonderful job illustrating how little we can know about someone and how each person chooses what to share and what not to share about their past life.
That being said, A Simple Favor is not a traditional mystery with lots of red herrings. Instead the story develops at a steady pace as more and more of the heretofore unknown past is revealed. I found the use of flashback sequences to be effective in this regard. There are some nice twists and revelations from time to time.
The dialogue is a highlight of the film, with some of it being whip-smart funny. Emily tends to get the best lines as she is unrestrained in what she says. The costumes are superb. Of course Emily’s walk-in closet is a sight to behold, not only with clothes but with shoes as well. I especially enjoyed the occasional hat. Sean and Emily’s house is a marvel of modernity from the kitchen to the furnishings. There is one particularly provocative painting on the wall that is sure to provoke comment.
Blake Lively, so good in The Age of Adeline, gives a star performance in the film. From the delivery of her lines to the manner in which she presents her character on camera, she is the perfect Emily. She captures the emotional complexity of this flawed individual.
Anna Kendrick is excellent as Stephanie. She appears in much more of the film as she pursues her investigation. Her character is allowed more evolution over time.
Henry Golding as Sean is a lesser character. It does seem odd that he would stayed with Emily all of these years or, for that matter, that Emily would have put up with her P.R. job for as long as she does. But he is a good complement to the two other leads.
The movie did seem a trifle long to me. There also was the occasional scene that was unnecessary, such as one in which Stephanie cannot get out of Emily’s little black dress. Overall, however, Paul Feig has created a wonderfully enjoyable tale that is both intriguing and funny. The ending is highly satisfying. 4 out of 5 stars.
Stephanie (Anna Kendrick), a mommy vlogger who seeks to uncover the truth behind her best friend Emily’s (Blake Lively) sudden disappearance from their small town. Stephanie is joined Emily’s husband Sean (Henry Golding) in this stylish thriller filled with twists and betrayals, secrets and revelations, love and loyalty, murder and revenge.
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding, Andrew Rannells, Linda Cardellini, Jean Smart, and Rupert Friend
Directed by: Paul Feig
Screenplay by: Jessica Sharzer
Based upon the novel by: Darcey Bell