Written by: Terence Johnson, CC2K Staff Writer
Watching A Simple Favor is akin to getting on a tea cup ride at an amusement park. At first you spin around the center, slowly gaining an understanding of what the ride entails. Then you start spinning the tea cup, clockwise and counterclockwise, developing a unique rhythm and dizzying experience. It’s not hard to feel that screenwriter Jessica Sharzer and director Paul Feig understood that what makes those rides so fun, much like this film, is that as long as you keep the cups, or plot spinning, the audience will follow you where you go.
And follow them you must, because A Simple Favor initially starts off fairly simple. Anna Kendrick plays Stephanie Smothers, a single mom with a popular vlog. Her son befriends a kid in his class, the child of none other than Emily Nelson (Blake Lively), the impeccably dressed enigma of the city. The two women quickly begin to bond over drinks and shared secrets. However, not long after, Emily goes missing. A much blander movie would have stopped right there, but A Simple Favor uses this act of disappearance as a catalyst to tell a story that’s part Diabolique, part Hitchcockian thriller, and part “women who lie to themselves” picture.
The film is incredibly impressive from a structural standpoint. All of the elements above could be their own film, so to have them work in concert is quite a thing to behold. A Simple Favor zigs when you expect it to zag, creating a thrilling atmosphere. The movie gets a wee bit complicated nearing the third act, almost too complicated for its own good, in a quest to hit as many of the thriller beats.
But the movie is saved because Sharzer and Feig truly understand that in order for the thriller elements to work, A Simple Favor must first succeed on a character level, and if they ever got stuck, that relying on a trio of great actors can save almost any film. More than just relying on their acting ability, A Simple Favor understands and toys with the audience’s perceptions of the actors.
Henry Golding, so dreamy in Crazy Rich Asians, is equally adept at using his good looks and British accent to entice viewers. But Golding is also great at pulling us in with his openness, while still maintaining an air of mystery. Anna Kendrick is a pure delight as Stephanie, and is very unassuming when paired with Golding and Lively. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t stand out, she anchors this movie with her warm presence and killer edge that emerges once Stephanie starts to get comfortable with the new world order after Emily’s disappearance. She might play the lovely Mommy Vlogger, but her secrets and attitude are fierce.
A Simple Favor belongs to Blake Lively, who it seems was born to act whilst wearing beautiful and expensive clothes (see: her amazing turn as Serena van der Woodsen on Gossip Girl). Lively understands Emily has to be untouchable and intimidating while being able to draw each and every character into her orbit. She uses her physicality, from the clothes to how she sits and walks to her voice, as a weapon, giving Emily a complete arc in every scene, without overplaying the showier elements of the character. It’s beautiful character work from the actress and will remain the lasting impression from this wonderful film.
It’s no surprise then that this film ends up being as delicious as it is because everyone collaborating on this picture is working in harmony. Even in the moments where the movie slips, there’s another zinger from Anna Kendrick or perfectly staged scene from Paul Feig to lift it right back up. By the time the year is all said and done, A Simple Favor will certainly stand among its best.