‘Everybody has a dark side.’
A Simple Favour director Paul Feig is best known as the creator of Freaks and Geeks, the director of The Heat, Spy, Bridesmaids and Ghostbusters (2016). You might even recognise him as the guy who popped up every episode on Joel McHale’s Netflix show. Seeing his name appear on the trailer caused something of a surprise, as the film seemed to be a slick and glossy thriller in the remit of Gone Girl. It felt very different to the relatively broad comedy is his back catalogue, something an anomaly or black sheep – apt as that’s some of the film’s key themes.
Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) is a single mother who vlogs top tips for mothers whilst her young son, Nicky, is at school. Her life revolves around her son and motherhood, always over-volunteering at his school to participate in events, without any real friendships of her own. That’s until Nicky asks for a playdate with his school friend Miles, whose mother Emily (Blake Lively), a glamourous martini-drinking executive who appears to have something of a perfect life. Emily is married to handsome writer turned lecturer Sean (Henry Golding) and they have an incredible modern mansion-esque home. Stephanie and Emily quickly become friends, of a kind anyway, until Emily asks Stephanie to look after Miles, before disappearing completely. The question is – what happened to Emily?
it’s upon watching the film that you realise why the film’s genre was so hard to pinpoint – the film itself has no idea either. The above plot summary takes up the first 1/4 or so of the film. Up until Emily’s disappearance it plays as something of a comedy that is quirky and funny, mostly aimed at laughing at/with Kendricks’ Stephanie, albeit with its surprising dark moment.
Emily’s disappearance then shifts the film into being a thriller. Sort of. It’s part erotic thriller, part comedy, part thriller, part who-dunnit, part melodrama and part so much else. It hops between all of the above with little warning to extent it causes a degree of emotional whiplash. And yet, there’s something sublime about the whole affair. It’s camp dialed up to the nth degree and very much dependant on the charisma of its leads.
Kendricks is wonderful as the walking/taking stereotype of a full-time mum whose dedication to her son is close to something of an obsession. She’s an angelic figure, the kind of good soul who just seems too perfect – the film gleefully enjoys pulling that illusion apart. Lively is excellent as her suit-clad counterpart. Emily has a world-weary, no-time-for-BS that we may envy yet know to be grating in reality. She’s knowing, the 18-rating to Stephanie’s PG existence. It’s a tough job to make such a secretive and closed off character seem real and intriguing – Lively does a good job. Golding, after an excellent turn in the equally excellent Crazy Rich Asians , can add this notch to his charismatic cinematic boyfriend belt. Long may it continue.
The film overall is most pleasing when it continues to defy expectation. The best example of this is when character’s dialogue overlaps a flashback; their words may paint one image but their actions reveal to the audience the truth. It’s an excellent touch, a reminder of the artifice that comes with the construction and presentation of self-image.
Just like the film as a whole, we never know what to expect or who to suspect.
A Simple Favour is in UK cinemas now.