A Simple Favor is a stylish noir comedy
Paul Feig’s Spy is without a doubt one of my favorite comedies of all time, and with A Simple Favor, he proves, yet again, his ability to take a well-loved genre and subvert audience expectations, this time in ridiculously fun, pulpy, pastel-hued fashion. Based on the novel by Darcey Bell, and adapted by Jessica Sharzer, stars Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick use their celebrity personas to great effect in this noir-ish, true crime, thriller, cinematic mashup.
Kendrick’s mommy-vlogger Stephanie Smothers (with a name like Smothers…) is a single mother to her son, Miles, as well as an avid volunteer at his school. International food days, bake sales, crafts, you name it. In typical comedy fashion, Stephanie’s enthusiasm grates on the other parents and causes her to be an outcast in the parent circle. Stephanie is able to shrug off their catty attitudes, but soon finds herself very interested in befriending another social outcast in the mommy-circle, Emily Nelson (Blake Lively), whose high-powered job requires that she wear only cleavage-baring three piece suits and fedoras, while mainlining gin martinis (the British recipe only, please). Emily is sexy, and dangerous as hell, and it’s obvious Stephanie feels a relationship with Emily will coax her own saucy side to overflow her buttoned-up pom-pom adorned cardigan. Both women have secrets, but Stephanie doesn’t seem to want to hide hers as much, as she finds a sweet release in both the revelations of her own sordid past, while playing detective to Emily’s sudden disappearance.
Once Emily disappears, this film does an effective job keeping you guessing as to who the responsible parties are. In true noir fashion, no one is clean, including Emily’s struggling writer husband Sean (Henry Golding). As Stephanie gets deeper and deeper into Emily’s designer goods, her wholesome persona comes into question, as does Sean, who ingratiates himself to Stephanie’s more “motherly” instincts after Emily disappears, as it’s clear he has problems looking after their son, Nicky. The thriller aspects of this film are spot on and work surprisingly well given the comedic elements on display. There were a couple of moments where I was legitimately creeped out and wondering if this was going to take a darker turn than even I anticipated.
At the center of it all though, are two pitch-perfect (Ha!) performances from Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively. I’ll never tire of Kendrick’s self-conscious, quirky humor, and for this role, it’s almost mandatory. Lively can’t help but be a sun-kissed femme fatale, but under all the sex appeal are some real sociopathic underpinnings that truly bring the mystery to her character, and the sense of unease to the rest of us. I haven’t seen Crazy Rich Asians, but Henry Golding’s performance here makes me want to see it all the more. He plays the part of a man bewitched by Lively while simultaneously being the mastermind of his own demise, brilliantly.
There’s a lot to have fun with here, and despite a rather silly ending that borders on destroying the tone of the film as a whole, I loved the hell out of this movie. Everything down to the preppy, couture costuming, the cool French pop soundtrack flourishes, and above all, the true crime stylings, A Simple Favor, is pure indulgent joy at the movies.
A Simple Favor opens in Philly theaters today.