‘A Simple Favor’ entertains but suffers from predictable twists
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
“A Simple Favor” is a provocative feminine neo-noir that may leave something to be desired, but still indulges a charmingly bittersweet aftertaste.
The film, starring Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively, hit theaters Friday, Sept. 14. Director Paul Feig, whose other work includes “Bridesmaids,” “Spy” and “The Heat,” seems to specialize in female-driven films that are equal parts outrageous and satisfying. Other box-office names accompanying Kendrick and Lively are Henry Golding (“Crazy Rich Asians”) and Linda Cardellini (“Freaks and Geeks,” “Daddy’s Home”). The film is based on the 2017 novel of the same name by Darcey Bell.
Kendrick plays the overly enthusiastic Stephanie Smothers. The name sounds like a Dr. Seuss caricature of a stay-at-home mom with a semi-popular mommy vlog channel, and Stephanie is exactly that – until her newfound, high-profile best friend Emily Nelson (Lively) goes missing. From then on, Kendrick gives a surprisingly sharp performance as a passive-aggressive parent turned daring detective. Of course, Kendrick’s affectionately awkward personality still shines through, especially standing next to Lively’s chic composure. In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, casting director Allison Jones admitted that she has an affinity for “smart, offbeat and goofy” actors, which explains why the notoriously kitschy Kendrick was chosen for this bold role. It was very refreshing to see Kendrick take a break from her usual quirky roles for a more mature venture.
Lively’s appeal in this movie isn’t reliant on her famous blonde hair. That is to say, she’s not just another conventionally attractive actress cast to play the Envy of Suburbia. Rather, her frozen gin martinis, cutthroat retorts and skill with dainty pistols are what make Emily a captivating, cunning leading lady. Fiercely feminine, Emily is a formidable PR executive with a gorgeous husband, designer clothing and, of course, a darling, toothless son. As the film progresses, Emily’s life is revealed to be a little less than perfect, and she stops at nothing to live her life on her own terms. As a woman watching this film, I loved how empowered I felt by Lively’s performance. I was very aware of the extra confidence in my step as I left the theater, contemplating whether moving to Manhattan would make me the sexy, blunt boss woman that Lively portrays. However, there were times when I found myself almost begging Lively’s character to cool it with the coy smiles and raspy voice so I could see a more emotional facet to her one-dimensional con artist front.
While the film prides itself on its twists and turns, many of them are predictable and somewhat disappointing. Characters seem flat at times, and although the major plot twists maintain their aura of mystery and deception, they are anticlimactic in terms of revealing true motives. There’s certainly no shortage of family scandal and sexual motivation lying between the threads of “A Simple Favor,” but I felt that there wasn’t quite enough to elevate this film to the ranks of its more illustrious inspirations such as “Gone Girl,” “Diabolique” or “Gaslight.” The film tries to do too much too fast, and I feel that a slower pace would have allowed for more sophisticated plot development.
“A Simple Favor” is a seductive crime drama that takes the audience down a rabbit hole of insurance fraud, affairs and, perhaps most daunting, the Parent Teacher Association. Despite a few cringe-worthy jokes and ambiguous plot twists, it is still an entertaining experience in modern female-driven noir.
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