By HEATHER TURK
Front Row Features Film Critic
Based upon the 2017 novel by Darcey Bell, Lionsgate’s “A Simple Favor” is a stylish thriller that keeps audiences guessing until the very end—especially about what type of movie they just watched.
While the film’s trailers make the movie look like a serious, suspenseful thriller that focuses on a mommy vlogger who seeks to uncover the truth behind her best friend’s sudden disappearance, with actor-turned-director Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids,” “Spy”) at the helm, it should come as no surprise the film has plenty of comedic moments. Still, at a recent press screening for the film, audiences were laughing way more than they were gasping at any sudden, shocking revelations in the story, leaving some viewers wondering whether or not they were supposed to take anything in the film seriously.
Anna Kendrick (Academy Award nominee for “Up in the Air”) plays Stephanie, a widowed mommy vlogger who becomes best friends with the sexy and mysterious Emily (Blake Lively, “Gossip Girl”) when their kids insist on having a play date together. The term “best friends” is used loosely in the film, as really the two moms only hang out a few times to chat and drink martinis, but since it appears neither one of them really has any other friends in their lives, audiences are expected to just go with it.
One day, Emily calls Stephanie to ask her for “a simple favor” and pick up her son from school, as something has suddenly come up and she can’t pick him up herself. Stephanie naturally agrees, but Emily never returns. A couple of days later, Emily’s husband Sean (Henry Golding, “Crazy Rich Asians”) comes back from his injured mother’s bedside in London to pick up his son and he and Stephanie file a missing person report together.
Although the film’s trailers would make it seem like the majority of “A Simple Favor’s” 117-minute runtime is dedicated to tracking down Emily’s whereabouts, the police quickly find out whether Emily is dead or alive—or so viewers think. The screenplay by three-time Emmy nominee Jessica Sharzer (“American Horror Story”) takes viewers on a twisted journey that constantly has them questioning what’s true and what’s false, who is guilty and who is innocent and really whether or not any of the movie’s leading characters have any sympathetic qualities about them. Even sweet Stephanie, it turns out, has her own dirty little secrets.
Sharzer’s many plot twists coupled with Feig’s dark and not-so-dark sense of humor make “A Simple Favor” a bit jarring to watch at times. It’s definitely entertaining, but it’s hard to know whether or not to take the tongue-in-cheek film seriously as a thriller. All of its leads do a commendable job with the roles they’re given, with Kendrick being her typical, adorably awkward self, but audiences never really get a true feeling for who any of these characters are and who is really playing whom.
Even the film’s soundtrack is both enjoyable and confusing. Many of the songs are sung in French, which gives the movie a certain air of sophistication, but why they’re sung in French is never really explained since the movie doesn’t take place in France nor are any of its character (as far as audiences know) French.
If audiences are okay with leaving the film with far more questions than answers, though, “A Simple Favor” is quite entertaining to watch. It’s stylish, it’s intriguing, it’s funny—it’s really anything but simple. Unfortunately, its convolutedness keeps the film from ever being as great as some of the other movies Feig has directed over the years, as audiences will never really know if what they saw was supposed to be a comedic thriller or a suspenseful comedy.