A Simple Favor
Directed by Paul Feig
A Simple Favor is my favourite Paul Feig movie yet. As much love as I have for Bridesmaids, for The Heat, and especially for Spy, A Simple Favor is tighter and darker and deeper and sexier and crafted with a lighter touch than anything he's done before. Not going to apologize here, I really do love A Simple Favor. With a soundtrack that leans heavy on classic and modern French ye-ye, and a sense of fashion and style and art direction that is beyond anything else in the cineplex this year, A Simple Favor is the movie I didn't know I was looking for.
A Simple Favor, along with making my spell check crazy, defies easy categorizing, there is no shelf for this movie. Too much heart to be a dark comedy, too much humour to be a drama, too light to be a psychological thriller, too dark to be a dramedy. The closest it comes to for reference could be maybe Gone Girl, with its tone and style and Hitchcockian themes of dark secrets and obsession and sex as both something both healing and toxic. A Simple Favor is most definitely not Gone Girl Redux. It's just that this is a post-Gone Girl world and it might be the easiest touchpoint when trying to talk about a movie that can't be talked about without seeing it first. A Simple Favor also taps into the Hitchcock well, with its themes of obsession and secrets and the things that eat at our souls.
If we follow that Hitchcock thread, Blake Lively is our cool blonde as Emily, Anna Kendrick as Stephanie is our everywoman trying to unravel the secrets. There are twists and turns and surprises and macguffins and I can assure you that the film does check off most of the Hitchcock shopping list but to go any farther would be giving too much away. Sure, some may say that some of the twists are predictable, that they saw them coming. But the joy is watching Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick and the rest of the cast and Paul Feig and his team hand over this amazingly well crafted puzzle for us to enjoy.
And really that's what makes A Simple Favor so darned special. It's enjoyable, it's entertaining. It does what movies that aren't franchises are supposed to do - surprise us, make us laugh and gasp, make us think and escape.
When the film opens, Stephanie is a single mom, a vlogger, and type-A personality helicopter parent who struggles when talking to anyone over seven. When she first meets Emily she is immediately fascinated by Emily's rough edges, her free range parenting, her confidence, and the way she seems to effortlessly glide through the world. They bond over secrets and after school martinis. Stephanie and Emily are a study in contrasts, Stephanie dressing very feminine, almost a stereotype of a young single mom with clothes that are unfashionable and a little too playful, and Emily in her high-end almost masculine power suits that never hide the body underneath. Emily with her blazers and tiny skirts, Stephanie with her pom-pom dress. At first Emily seems to have lived the life that Stephanie missed out on, a novelist husband, a hint of past lovers, an ambiguous sexuality. But then stuff happens and Emily disappears and it seems that only Stephanie has noticed. And then more stuff happens and Jesus on a waffle A Simple Favor is a great movie.
The performances are wall-to-wall great. Henry Golding as Sean, Emily's husband, is a hell of a discovery. This is his second film. Not just his second film in 2018, but his second film ever. The other film? Crazy Rich Asians. 2018 is a very good year for Henry Golding. His performance barely touches the ground, it's almost translucent, letting the viewer place motivations and thoughts and intentions on the character. He is a blank slate, letting us guess at what is going on underneath the surface. Andrew Rannells, Aparna Nancherla, and Kelly McCormack are hilarious as the Greek Chorus of parents, commenting on Emily and Stephanie's relationship, their theories on Emily's disappearance, shooting everyone around them and each other down whenever the opportunity arises. But as great as all of the cast is, no matter the size of the role, everyone is in the shadow of the leads. Both Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively bring their A-games. Many times Ms Lively has been cast as the Every Woman, the incredibly beautiful Every Woman, but still, not many opportunities to showcase her true talent. Her Emily is a riddle wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Apologies to Winston Churchill. Much of the film relies on her sense of mystery and Ms Lively is truly up to the challenge.
And then there is Anna Kendrick. This, this right here, is her best performance so far. As great as she has been in the past, in Up in the Air, in the Pitch Perfect series, in 50/50, in, well, everything, A Simple Favor is her at her toppermost. She is in nearly every scene and slays. I've been a fan since Up in the Air but I have never seen her do anything close to what she does here. Funny and sad and full of darkness and embarrassed and more at home making her on-line series of cooking and lifestyle videos than talking to anyone over the age of seven. It would be easy to miss what she is doing in this movie, she makes it seem so easy. Spencer Tracy used to say that the most important rule of acting was don't get caught acting. Ms Kendrick is never caught once.
And then there's the chemistry between Ms Kendrick and Ms Lively. Goodness gracious, these two. Every moment with them is something special. I would watch them in remakes of the Bing Crosby/Bob Hope Road To movies. I would watch them in a TV series where they travel the country in an RV. Hell, I would watch them read a grocery list for hours. Every film made from now on should star Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively. Even the Marvel movies.
So, yeah. A Simple Favor is among the best of the year. Skip the franchises, skip the CGI extravaganzas. Just trust me on this - A Simple Favor is definitely worth seeing.