Moms. Martinis. Murder.
Directed by Paul Feig
Starring Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding
Released September 14th, 2018
Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick) is a young widowed mother of a son in second grade. Stephanie doesn’t have a lot of close friends. Or any, for that matter. She spends her time uploading videos to the internet on such important topics as the best cookie recipes and the easiest way to get your kids to eat their vegetables. She volunteers for every school function and event, always with a smile, not quite understanding why the other moms find her alienating.
As annoying as she comes across to the other parents in her circle, she is a good, if overprotective, mother to her son Miles (Joshua Satine). Miles is pals with his classmate Nicky (Ian Ho), and they desperately want to have an after-school playdate. This is how Stephanie meets Nicky’s mother Emily Nelson (Blake Lively). As Emily walks from her car toward Stephanie and the boys, life itself seems to slow down, revealing Emily as an unearthly vision in an oversize hat and style to spare.
I expected this to be a straight ahead thriller and was unprepared for the dark humor spread throughout.
Emily is outspoken and foul mouthed, the polar opposite of Stephanie. Yet as their boys play together in Emily’s backyard, the women find themselves drawn to each other, with Emily convinced Stephanie cannot possibly be as square as she seems, and Stephanie immediately falling in love with Emily’s high class style, aggressive attitude, beautiful house, and gorgeous husband. Emily’s husband Sean (Henry Golding) is a novelist with but one book to his name, having spent the last decade wrestling with writer’s block. Sean and Emily seem happy, if bored with each other.
In the weeks that follow, Stephanie continues posting videos on her mom vlog, now including happy references to her new best friend Emily. One ordinary day Emily calls Stephanie and asks for a simple favor: would she be able to pick Nicky up from school? Of course Stephanie is happy to help, but she is less happy once Emily never comes to pick her son up. For hours. Then days. Stephanie and Sean go to the police to file a missing persons report, and Stephanie updates her vlog to ask if anyone has seen her pal, creating a viral sensation as more users stream her videos curious of Emily’s fate.
Emily is without question Blake Lively’s best role to date.
What follows are too many twists and turns to list here, not that I would want to give anything away. I’ll just say that halfway through the film I was sure there was only one way this thing could go and then the reveal at the conclusion was completely different than I had guessed. I expected this to be a straight ahead thriller and was unprepared for the dark humor spread throughout. Apparently the book, by Darcey Bell, is a more serious affair, but this adaptation knows the twists are absurd and really plays up the trashiness of it all. Screenwriter Jessica Sharzer imbues the film with a wonderful cruel streak. Characters do cruel things to each other time and again, with scenes going to surprising places that aren’t normally seen in mainstream movies.
After his star turn in Crazy Rich Asians, the internet started making noise that Henry Golding should play James Bond. After seeing his charisma on full display in A Simple Favor, I’m ready to join that chorus. Anna Kendrick deftly brings many layers to the part of Stephanie, keeping audiences guessing about her true motivations. Emily is without question Blake Lively’s best role to date. The character really gives her a chance to shine with material that is more complex than she’s usually given.
But let’s talk about the most important element of A Simple Favor: the style. The film’s Saul Bass inspired posters, the 1960’s French pop music soundtrack, Renee Ehrlich Kalfus’ chic 1950’s style outfits, and ice cold gin martinis with a lemon twist all come together as an impressive backdrop to people doing very bad things.
The trailer for A Simple Favor says it is “from the darker side of Paul Feig,” a director known for his comedies. To that end, I was reminded of Gus Van Sant and Buck Henry’s excellent 1995 dark comedy, To Die For, with which this film shares some similarities. I hope Feig makes more films like this. A Simple Favor is campy fun, a dark story wrapped in the brightest of colors.