Though I’ve watched some of Paul Feig’s other movies, I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself a fan of his. While I appreciate the female-lead humour in most of his body of work, and the sincerity he promotes in his protagonists, I never felt anything more than a vague fondness for what he has done so far. This has changed with A Simple Favor, a stunning thriller than demonstrates his fantastic range whilst still feeling in character for his voice as a director. Add to this some good work from Anna Kendrick and Henry Golding, plus Blake Lively’s most impressive performance of her career, and you have a movie that won’t be gone from my mind for a while.
Sidenote: the poster is beautiful and captures much of the film perfectly. Anyway…
Single mother and vlogger Stephanie (played by Anna Kendrick) lives a fairly dull life spent mostly at PTA meetings with more reluctant parents, until she meets Emily (brought to life by Blake Lively), an enigmatic woman with a son of her own. They become closer despite seemingly being opposites, until one day Emily disappears without a trace. Stephanie and Emily’s husband Sean (Henry Golding) work together to find her but uncover more about her past than either of them could have expected, as well as an affection for each other. With a weaker director, this plot could have been dull, a simple mystery that goes through the motions. But with its beautiful costumes and mise-en-scene, stylish French soundtrack, painterly shots and legitimately hilarious dialogue, A Simple Favor becomes so much more.
The two lead performances by Kendrick and Lively, though, are what gives the film substance. The former is relatably charming for the first act as she blunders through social interactions and reacts with a reasonable amount of conservative shock at the high-powered yet rather bohemian lifestyle Emily leads. And then there is the latter, who does the impossible and allows Emily to become as ghostly, potent, and most importantly cool as the script describes her. The entire film hangs around this one performance like one of Emily’s beautiful gowns on a hanger – a risky move on writer Jessica Sharzer’s part that paid off wonderfully.
The dialogue may be recognisably modern, featuring plenty of dark humour and the occasional gross-out joke, but the other cinematic influences that I can identify go far further back. The stylish pastel opening credits that cut through the black background felt Hitchcockian, and reminded me particularly of Psycho‘s frantic opening stripes. Indeed, the plot could be that of a noir film, with the character’s respective morality becoming more and more blurred as the runtime goes on. The previously mentioned 1960s French pop also inevitably brings to mind the New Wave, and though I didn’t spot any specific references the bright colour palette resembled that of Jacques Demy’s work, and it could even be argued that the bizarre love triangle is rather like that of Jules et Jim. Overall, the general chaos and sexual freedom did much to echo the spirit of the movement, but an acknowledgement of the modern world and a down to earth script kept it from seeming pretentious.
If you have a spare evening, go see this darkly enjoyable ride at the cinema; though a little hard to follow at points, its the most fun I’ve had there for weeks.
On another note entirely, if you’ve enjoyed this review and others, I’d love if you would consider getting me a cup of coffee or money towards a cinema ticket via my Ko-Fi page linked here. It supports me and helps keep these reviews going, so I would be forever grateful!