Film: A Simple Favor

A Simple Favor (2018) boasts significant assets, and opens strongly with a nicely built atmosphere of quirky intrigue, but ultimately falls short of its promise. Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick) is a single mother, a goody two shoes whose mundane life gets an unexpected jolt when she befriends the stylish and enigmatic Emily Nelson (Blake Lively). Emily is Stephanie’s opposite: adventurous, mercurial, confident to the point of arrogance. Nonetheless their friendship blooms, aided somewhat by Stephanie’s appreciation for Emily’s husband Sean Townsend (Henry Golding)—a one-shot novelist whose book Stephanie read and admired. One day, Emily asks Stephanie a favor: to pick up her son from school. Stephanie complies…and Emily vanishes, spiraling Stephanie’s life into a complex mystery.

With a breezy, dark-comedy style and exceptional acting, A Simple Favor hits the ground running in its gripping early stages. The scenario builds masterfully and Kendrick anchors the proceedings with an accessible, nicely nuanced performance. Lively is similarly winning, in an edgier manner, and the two leads’ onscreen chemistry sets the stage nicely for what looks like it might be a slick, contemporary Hitchcockian blend of thriller and comedy. Unfortunately, the mystery gets solved, and as the pieces come together the film careens into its final act in a less-than-convincing manner. Director Paul Feig, known more as a comedy director (Bridesmaids, Ghostbusters), does a fine job leveraging the talented cast in their quirky, plot-building interactions, but as the film hits the home stretch he loses a handle on its infectious tone. The result is a muddled pulp-thriller finale that doesn’t satisfy its early promise, nor does it resonate for long as the credits roll. Still, until then it’s a fun and engaging enough ride, worthwhile especially for the stellar performances of Kendrick and Lively, as well as a solid supporting work from Linda Cardellini, Rupert Friend, Jean Smart, and Olivia Sandoval, among others.

 

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