A Simple Favor – 2018
Director Paul Feig
Screenplay Jessica Sharzer based on the book by Darcey Bell
Starring Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding, Andrew Rannells, Linda Cardellini, Rupert Friend, Jean Smart, Bashir Salahuddin
I don’t watch all that many mysteries, but I’ve seen enough to get bored with the normal twists and turns. Gone Girl changed things a few years back when we discovered that (spoiler) the good girl could be bad…and win. The important thing we learned is crazy as she is, Amy is “not a quitter.”
Stephanie Smothers (Kendrick) isn’t a quitter either. In fact, she is a super single mom who overachieves daily in her son’s school life while keeping up a vlog covering whatever crosses her mind. After meeting the mother of one of her son’s friends, Emily Nelson (Lively), they become unlikely friends.
Their friendship seems to be based on favors in short order, to the effect that one of the other parents assumes that Emily finally found the nanny that Emily was looking to hire. There is more there for Stephanie than just a friend, and before long she admits a deep secret that has haunted her since she was 18 years old.
One day, Emily calls and asks that Stephanie watch her child while she handles an emergent situation. Emily tells her company she’s going to Miami. Several days later after not hearing from Emily, Stephanie finds out otherwise.
Where the story goes from here, I will leave to the viewer. Suffice to say the film never stops entertaining, even through tonal changes and a delightfully stingy parsing of clues.
The performances by the leads are solid. Kendrick is able to express like an eager mom whose desire to overcome her condition while curiousity leads her down a rabbit hole. Where she goes with this never stops being entertaining, even if it is somewhat unlikely.
Lively has never been better. This is the role that could be her breakout. She has an enigmatic charm that cuts through each scene like a knife. Her presence is electric and she grabs hold of the viewer with a confidence she’s not expressed before. She could be a tremendous star if she keeps picking material like this.
Henry Golding hs the beneficiary of two remarkable book to screen translations in one summer. His portrayal of Emily’s husband Sean is everything it needs to be to give every twist a strong possibility.
Feig does a great job here in pushing the story into new areas, both tonal and as a mystery. It’s unlike most films in the serpentine way in which it moves between mystery, comedy and drama. This may frustrate some, but it’s definitely the intent of the artists that it turn out this way. The viewer will never cease to be engaged.
This film has legs. Like its story, no one expected it, but it will leave its viewers entertained and rewarded.
(***** out of *****)