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New Release Review - A SIMPLE FAVOUR

a simple favour review
A mommy blogger investigates the mysterious disappearance of her friend.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Paul Feig

Starring: Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Linda Cardellini, Henry Golding, Rupert Friend

a simple favour poster


One of the more successful novels among the spate of mystery tales that came in the wake of Gone Girl's success is Darcey Bell's A Simple Favour, which like Gillian Flynn's book and Paula Hawkins' The Girl on the Train, centres its drama around the disappearance of a female suburbanite. I can't say I've read Bell's novel, but by all accounts it's a straight thriller, devoid of humour. It may seem odd then that Paul Feig - a director known for comedies like Bridesmaids, Ghostbusters and Spy - opted to bring Bell's thriller to the screen, but filmmakers don't like to find themselves pigeon-holed, and the marketing for A Simple Favour gleefully bills it as offering audiences a glimpse into "the darker side of Paul Feig."

Despite such a premise, the movie opens in familiar Feig territory, essentially a female buddy comedy for its opening act, which details the meet not so cute and developing friendship between Stephanie (Anna Kendrick), a 'golly gee' single mother who behaves like she stepped out of a 1950s electric oven commercial, and the tough as nails Emily (Blake Lively), an Amazonian fashion rep who has grown tired of her life as a trophy wife to Sean (Henry Golding - there's your non-white James Bond right there), a British author who hasn't written a word since marrying her.


a simple favour review

Despite Emily behaving like a complete bitch to Stephanie, the latter finds her alien confidence and arrogance fascinating, and despite her constant mocking, Emily does seem equally beguiled by Stephanie's all-American innocence, though at times she behaves oddly, like how she snaps at Stephanie for attempting to take a photo of her.

A few weeks into their friendship, Stephanie agrees to collect Emily's young son from school, but four days later and there's no sign of Emily, who has now officially become a missing person. Stephanie decides to investigate her friend's disappearance herself, while forming a bond with Sean that threatens to overstep the boundaries of platonic friendship.

A Simple Favour isn't so much a comedy-thriller as a comedy that becomes a thriller. It's a 30 minute comedy followed by a largely straight-faced 90 minute thriller with occasional jolts of jarring comedy thrown in. The comedy is a lot of fun, but the thriller is tediously generic and ham-fisted.

Kendrick and Lively are magnificent together in the film's early portion, riffing off each other as though auditioning to co-host the next Golden Globes ceremony. I could have easily watched two hours of their characters simply hanging out - and the movie would have benefitted greatly from a larger role for Rupert Friend, hilarious as Emily's snooty boss - but alas the mystery plot kicks in and Feig exits his comfort zone with disastrous results.


a simple favour review

A Simple Favour is so riddled with thriller clich├ęs that where it not for characters explicitly referencing other movies - "Are you Diabolique-ing me?" "I'm not Gaslight-ing you!" etc. - you might wonder if Feig has never watched a thriller and genuinely believes his tired and predictable plot elements are original.

The director is clearly out of his depth here, his dialogue-driven storytelling completely at odds with the thriller genre. Much of the narrative consists of Stephanie interviewing people from Emily's past, who spill plot points in monologues. I've seen Lifetime channel thrillers with more cinematic storytelling than is offered here.

Feig appears to be the definition of an actor's director, and he mines winning performances from his female leads, but he seems to have no understanding of how to use editing, framing, blocking, lighting etc in service of tension and suspense. So poorly edited is his film that at times it can be confusing as to whether we're watching a flashback or not, and a major visual reveal is presented in such a bland manner that the impact of the revelation is completely lost.


a simple favour review

The oddest part of Feig's film is how it portrays Kendrick's Stephanie. The initial premise of a Martha Stewart-esque Soccer Mom conducting a criminal investigation has great potential, but once said investigation begins, Stephanie morphs from naive suburbanite into an ingenious sleuth with no real personality. The film even attempts to make us wonder if Stephanie is a suspect, which makes no sense, because why would she be investigating a crime she committed herself?

Early on, Emily and Stephanie play a game of truth or dare, with Emily confessing to once engaging in a threesome with her hubby and another woman. Stephanie's secret is far more shocking; in fact she confesses to committing one of society's greatest taboos. Later, we're given a flashback that shows the tragic results of Stephanie's indiscretion and leaves us asking a major question regarding a minor character. It's a mind-blowing moment, and will likely be the film's main talking point, but it's never referred to again, its lack of resolution hanging over the film's generic ending like an ominous cloud. It's the one aspect of the film that genuinely lives up to the billing of Feig's darker side. Yikes!

A Simple Favour is in UK/ROI cinemas September 21st.




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