"Unsatisfying, Excessive Comic Thriller"
What You Need To Know:
A SIMPLE FAVOR shifts tone too much between comedy and suspenseful thriller. The performances are sometimes too campy. Also, the movie has too much happen too quickly, making many of its plot twists seem absurd. A SIMPLE FAVOR has a strong Romantic worldview that paints a negative portrait of American suburban life. It also has excessive foul language, some explicit nudity, extramarital hanky-panky, and unlikeable characters.
A SIMPLE FAVOR is a comic thriller about a seemingly naïve and innocent, young widowed mother who befriends a wealthy woman just before the other woman disappears, leading the widow to become emboldened as she strives to solve what happened. A SIMPLE FAVOR can’t decide whether to be a comedy or a thriller and has a strong Romantic worldview that paints a negative portrait of American suburban life, with excessive foul language, explicit nudity, extramarital hanky-panky, and ultimately unlikeable characters.
The movie opens on Stephanie (Anna Kendrick), a perky and seemingly naïve and innocent young widowed mother who’s speaking on her “mommy vlog,” where she’s giving gives tips on being a good mom and homemaker. The twist is that she talks about how her best friend Emily (Blake Lively) has disappeared and she is going to discuss her efforts to find her with her followers.
The story then jumps back to how their friendship developed, since Stephanie is a seemingly complete opposite from Emily, who’s ice-cold to everyone else and is incredibly rude to her boss and her husband, Sean (Henry Golding). Emily has a beautiful designer home, yet speaks with disdain about it. She starts repeatedly asking Stephanie, who’s living off the life insurance payoff from her own husband’s accidental death in a car crash, to do “a simple favor” watching her young son on increasingly frequent occasions.
One night, Emily completely disappears, leaving Stephanie watching her son for days since Emily’s husband Sean is visiting his hospitalized mother overseas. As Stephanie starts to realize she’s being taken used, she starts to toughen up and investigate what’s really happening with Emily and her life, until Emily is found dead in a river.
Sean soon makes a grief-stricken romantic move on Stephanie and the two begin an affair that leads to her living with him. Soon, however, she starts to notice signs that Emily might actually be alive. This leads to an ever-escalating series of plot twists.
This may all make A SIMPLE FAVOR sound like an intriguing Hitchcockian thriller, and for a while it works. However, while director Paul Feig (BRIDESMAIDS, THE HEAT, SPY) these days seems to be the king of successful female-starring comedies, his attempt here to switch into a different genre is hampered by his refusal to play it straight and serious enough.
Also, the movie has too much happen too quickly, making many of its plot twists absurd as the characters make major life decisions in ridiculously quick fashion. It seems that Feig and Screenwriter Jessica Sharzer are trying to have it both ways as both a comedy and a thriller, leaving the laughs not strong enough, while weakening the surprises.
The campy tone of the lead female performances also undercuts the dramatic elements of the movie, making it nearly impossible to take these people seriously enough to care what happens to them. Frankly, CRAZY RICH ASIANS breakout star Henry Golding does a better job with his all-serious role of Sean than leading ladies Kendrick and Lively do with their comical performances.
Feig shoots most of the happenings with some discretion, as a sexual tryst in an airplane bathroom between a fully clothed Emily and Sean is seen only in a split-second, and two sex scenes involving Stephanie feature her male partners with their shirts off, but no other nudity. The violence is either implied off-screen or played comically in a brief burst.
The movie’s biggest moral offenses come from a large, graphic painting of Emily nude, which focuses on her pubic hair in the foreground and is seen repeatedly in the movie. A visit by Stephanie to the artist, who painted her, reveals several topless photos of Emily as well. Even more shocking than that is a story where Stephanie admits she had sex with a half-brother she never knew she had, after meeting him at their father’s memorial service. This leads Emily to call her an obscene name several times. Finally, A SIMPLE FAVOR has a strong Romantic worldview with a negative depiction of American suburban life and excessive foul language.
Overall, A SIMPLE FAVOR has the simple but fatal flaw of not taking itself seriously enough in the beginning for viewers to care what happens to its unlikeable characters.