Monday, September 17, 2018


by Rob DiCristino
I have a brand, and I’m sticking to it.

Look, there’s no sense in burying the lede. We all know why we’re here, and I’m happy to report that Paul Feig’s A Simple Favor features the best Anna Kendrick performance since my beloved Pitch Perfect (2012) or her Oscar-nominated turn in 2009’s Up in the Air. Feig, screenwriter Jessica Sharzer (adapting Darcey Bell’s 2017 novel), and — perhaps most importantly — co-star Blake Lively give my girl a dark, sexy, and alluring (though not as dark, sexy, or alluring as the trailer suggests) sandbox to play in that works about as well as it has to for as long as it can before taking a spectacular nose-dive into convoluted thriller cliches that more or less derail the entire affair in the last thirty minutes. But we’ll get to that in a second. The point is that A Simple Favor is an encouraging rebound after Ghostbusters (2016) that allows Feig and his cohorts an opportunity to stretch a little creative muscle while looking, sounding, and feeling damn good doing it.
Stephanie Smothers (Kendrick) is a bright, energetic, and hyper-competent single mom who spends the few hours she’s not volunteering for her son’s (Joshua Satine as Miles) first grade class on an arts and crafts-themed mommy vlog. Stephanie, a widow whose husband and brother both died in the same car accident, remains doggedly optimistic and well-mannered in the face of criticism from more cynical parents like Sona (Aparna Nancherla), Darren (Andrew Rannells), and, in particular, Emily (Lively). Emily Nelson is a fast-living, potty-mouthed PR executive for a popular New York fashion mogul (Rupert Friend as Dennis Nylon) whose evening martinis typically start coming around 2 PM. When Miles asks for a playdate with her son, Nicky (Ian Ho), Emily brings Stephanie along for a boozy playdate of their own. Secrets soon come out, including Emily’s frustration with her failed novelist husband, Sean (Henry Golding) and Stephanie’s tragic (and disturbingly sexual) family demons.

Some initial awkwardness gives way to an unlikely friendship, and when Emily goes missing after a last-minute work trip, Stephanie suspects foul play. This is both good and bad news for A Simple Favor, because while Feig and Co. weave a quality mystery yarn that takes advantage of Stephanie’s ambiguous motivations and adorkable passion, losing Emily this early limits the number of scenes between Kendrick and Lively, whose potent chemistry provides the film’s best moments. Lively’s acerbic and confident performance (and, it must be said, her stunning power-suited wardrobe) gives A Simple Favor the energy and wit it needs to cut through the melodrama when things get too self-serious. The Gossip Girl star is in excellent form here, and while she has more heavy lifting to do than it initially seems (in an obnoxious second-act reveal that I won’t spoil), she’s more than game for the twists and turns. You know how you’d sometimes rather watch a group of actors have lunch than watch their movie? A Simple Favor comes very, very close.
Speaking of twists and turns, A Simple Favor’s charming cast and stylish presentation are not enough to save it from an absolutely exhausting final third that ties its compelling plot in so many competing knots that we lose all interest in what has come before and just pray for the whole thing to wrap up as quickly as possible. It’s especially upsetting that Stephanie’s aforementioned family drama (which colors our perception of her character, has clear thematic connections to other stories, and makes for a number of interesting narrative wrinkles) is abandoned in favor of fake-outs and double-crosses that end up feeling hollow and predictable. Maybe it made a bigger dent in the novel? Who knows? You may argue that thrillers like A Simple Favor are supposed to have nonsensical revelations and topsy-turvy climaxes. The entire noir genre is, in effect, built on melodrama that compromises our suspension of disbelief in favor of shocking showdowns. That’s a completely valid argument, and many fans of the genre will not be bothered by A Simple Favor’s atonal nightmare of an ending. But I was.
Still, A Simple Favor has enough going for it that we can forgive the times its reach exceeds its grasp. Paul Feig does his strongest directorial work when he maintains a firm hold over his cast’s tendency to improvise, and while Kendrick’s insecure, rambling asides are certainly present (and adorable as ever), Brent White’s disciplined editing keeps the film from collapsing under their weight. There’s also plenty of skin and sizzle to keep our attention during the longer, dryer spells (Kendrick tries on one black dress in particular that made my soul leave my body for a second), including a piece of X-rated art that leads to one of the best jokes in the film. In fact, I found myself hoping that Feig will go sleazier and more subversive in future projects, that he might lean into a raunchier brand of whimsy that could have saved this film from its worst impulses. Either way, it’s worth embracing A Simple Favor as a solid, female-led dramedy with enough brains and insight to make up for its clunky delivery.


  1. While I agree this film falls in the pitfall of most mysteries, in that the solution is not as interesting as the build up, I didn't think it was nearly as bad as you. Just not entirely satisfying. Anyway, I was just so thankful to see a mid-budget thriller in theaters these days, and I think there is A TON of stuff to like here. I thought the movie was so entertaining, and Kendrick and Lively are terrific in it.

  2. Literally the only review for this movie that I care about.

  3. Here's the thing. I liked this movie. It was decent and entertaining. It did become a straight up cartoon in the end third. It didnt serve the characters or the story. I hated what it was doing, while still finding myself liking it. Very weird. Feig made a bait and switch joke early on in the film, like a smug d-bag would do, but just because you make a joke about what youre doing doesnt get you off the hook. But i cant be that mad, again, because I liked the end product. Its like a fine paiting that someone crumbles up but doesnt tear it so it still looks good hanging on a wall.

  4. I can't believe you saw a new movie before I did :-)