“A Simple Favor” (dir. Paul Feig) stars Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively and Henry Golding, and follows the story of single mother, Stephanie (Kendrick), who begins to unravel the disappearance of her best friend, Emily (Lively). From there, Stephanie attempts to follow a trail of breadcrumbs to solve her friend’s departure, while mothering both her son and Emily’s son with the help of Emily’s husband, Sean (Golding). Feig is a name most will associate with comedy. He directed “Bridesmaids,” “Spy” and 15 episodes of “The Office.” Here, Feig tackles a dramatic script that takes dark turns through a majority of its 117 minute runtime, without losing his blend of comedy. Feig’s directorial style and the quippy line delivery from his leads make this film a very enjoyable watch, even if it at times feels like a “Gone Girl” clone.
This film opens very strong with Stephanie grieving over Emily’s disappearance on her vlog for moms. From here, it flashes back to five days before Emily’s disappearance and explores what her and Stephanie’s friendship was truly like. Kendrick is great here, despite being casted as a character with a similar personality to others she has played. Stephanie’s bubbly attitude and overall positivity plays well to her obsession and love of being a mother, seen through her vlogs. However, as she finds out more of Emily’s disappearance, Stephanie’s change in character is abrupt, which can be jarring to some viewers. While this is a realistic turn for a character who is currently under a tremendous amount of stress, it never seems earned in this instance. There is never a specific moment where Stephanie makes a choice that clearly changes her character, instead the change occurs from out of nowhere. Regardless, Kendrick is a joy to watch.
Despite only being in the film for a comparatively short amount of time, Lively steals the entire show. She plays a mother who is so distraught with her own work and failing marriage that she takes it upon herself to take Stephanie under her wing and show her that letting loose and having a drink is a necessity. Lively is ruthless in this role, never taking no for an answer and absolutely never doing what someone else wants her to do. She dominates the frame with a carefree attitude and oftentimes inflicts a great amount of fear into the audience.
Kendrick and Lively have great chemistry throughout “A Simple Favor” as they both ease into their new found friendship. At the start, it’s rocky between the two because Stephanie is only in the same room as Emily because their kids wanted to have a playdate. Emily imposes her will onto Stephanie, breaking down her walls and forcing both of them to open up to each other and get closer as friends. Kendrick plays the very caring and motherly role, while Lively plays the other side of the coin, a carefree and self indulgent woman. Their dynamic is incredibly intriguing and drives the first act of the film forward as the two women reveal secrets which play a huge role later in the film. These secrets entice the viewer, making them feel like they are a part of the bond between the two.
Upon Emily’s disappearance, Stephanie is expected to co-parent their children with the help of Emily’s husband, Sean (Golding). These two also have great chemistry, making most of the dour and uncomfortable scenes feel real.
Feig does a great job of balancing tone throughout each scene. He always lets the viewer know what is at stake while adding his trademark quippy comedy to bring some levity to more intense situations. Although it is a mystery-drama, the film is very funny, as are the actors. Feig leaves his stylistic stamp on the film, making it fun to watch, while also handling dramatic subject matter. He structures the film incredibly well, especially as a director who has yet to direct a film as heavy handed and dramatic as this one. The first half hour flies by, as information spills off the screen in a natural way. The next 45 minutes or so are intriguing due to the confusion over Stephanie and Sean not knowing what to do next. There aren’t any major revelations until the two figure out what to do regarding Emily’s disappearance and their children. However, the third act is where the film starts to reveal its flaws and, in turn, lose its footing.
Stephanie doesn’t leave the town to investigate Emily’s disappearance until around the 80 minute mark, and that feels a bit too late. With the second act running smoothly until this point, the sudden surge of investigation seems jarring, making the last 40 to 50 minutes feel slow in comparison. After a trip out of state, Stephanie continues her investigation for another 20 minutes of the film, but it never feels as interesting again because I, for one, was constantly trying to process all of the new information. Most of these new ideas could have easily been presented or hinted at throughout the second act, but when it’s an entirely brand new story being presented, it feels out of place. It also begins to drag because the new information comes out of left-field and isn’t nearly as interesting as the developments between Kendrick and Golding’s characters.This is where I draw in my comparison with “Gone Girl” (dir. David Fincher). Aside from the stories of these two films being nearly identical, “Gone Girl” handles the telling of new information a lot better. In that film, a certain reveal takes place around the 60 minute mark. When this occurs, the new information is tied in with the information that the director revealed in the previous 60 minutes of screentime. The conveyance of information feels rewarding as the viewer is able to pieces it together on their own. When twists and turns occur, it is smart as a director to let it sit with the viewer for a while before moving on to fresh information. “A Simple Favor”’s third act continuously throws new information at the viewers until the film resolves in a tense, but at times tonely, inconsistent way.
Overall, I would definitely recommend checking out “A Simple Favor.” The three leads are fantastic and share terrific moments together on screen. Paul Feig’s direction includes a lot of great scenes that build to a revealing climax, while adding humor to calm some of the more tense situations. However, the film’s bridge between second and third act is non existent, making the last 30 to 40 minutes drag, and the “Gone Girl” comparisons are inevitable so, if you have seen “Gone Girl,” you’ll know what to expect. I think Paul Feig did a great job bringing his brand of filmmaking to a genre that is uncharted in terms of his filmography. If you’re a fan of any of Feig’s prior work, any of the leads, or are just in the mood for an interesting mystery movie, definitely check this one out.