by Rob DiCristino
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.
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.