Paul Feig is one of those directors who’s hit or miss for me. On the one hand, I really enjoyed Spy and Ghostbusters, but on the other I really didn’t like Bridesmaids. With A Simple Favour though, Feig has moved away from comedy and has gone into the world of thriller. The result is a stylish, engaging film, but one that never quite worked for me.
The film follows Stephanie, a single mum and mommy-vlogger who becomes friends with Emily Nelson after their sons become friends. With Emily, Stephanie relays her secrets, finding a kinship with Emily despite the clear differences in their personalities and the secretive life of Emily. One day, Emily asks Stephanie to pick up her son from school but Emily doesn’t return. With Emily missing, Stephanie starts to put the pieces together to figure out what happened to Emily and who Emily really is. Now what mainly works about the film is the tone it goes for, going for a psychological thriller vibe with a lot of dark comedy thrown in. The way the humour and the tension work together throughout the film helps to keep it engaging and creates the right kind of atmosphere for a thriller of this type. This also works with the twists that the plot takes, mainly in the third act, the tone established throughout the film making it so these plot twists don’t feel out of place and helping to keep the film engaging throughout. There’s also great work done playing with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, if you want a more thorough look at this, Kristen Lopez did a great piece on it over on Birth Movies Death, there’s nothing I can say about how it works that she didn’t say better. I do think there are some missteps the film makes though, mainly in the second half of the film. Some of the twists are made too obvious and when they eventually happen, they aren’t given the weight that they deserve. I also feel that there should have been about 15-20 minutes more of the film at the end, I don’t want to say why for fear of spoiling the film, but I will say that the big twist in the film isn’t given enough time to breathe and the way it’s executed feels a bit rushed.
The performances though help to make the film. Anna Kendrick as Stephanie showcases the enthusiasm for being a mum that makes her character work in contrast with the more subdued personality of Emily at the start of the film, and also shows how the other characters in the film are able to convey their own desires onto Stephanie, not seeing her as a person but as a ideal. It’s a hard performance to do in making a character like this work and not to become annoying but the charm Kendrick brings to the role works, along with a darker side to the character that makes her more interesting. Again, I don’t want to spoil too much about why her performance works so well, but it’s this darker side and the way she gets more assertive as the film goes on that makes Stephanie a fascinating character. Blake Lively as Emily on the other hand is in the other direction to Kendrick, being a more subdued performance, showing the pressure she is put under to be the ideal version of herself and it gives the impression that she’s playing the part of the loving wife throughout the film, never given the chance to truly be herself. It’s only through talking to Stephanie that Emily is able to be who she wants to be and through this, we also see a more manipulative side to Emily. I don’t want to give away too much about the film, so I won’t talk about Lively any more, but if her performance wasn’t as strong as it is, the film wouldn’t work. Henry Golding as Emily’s husband Sean is strong as well, showing how he places his value on the women in his life, showing how he fulfils the tropes of men in other films, with him projecting the Manic Pixie Dream Girl status onto Stephanie as the film goes on, along with presenting his sense of inadequacy well. There are a few missteps with his character at the end of the film, part of the feeling that the film is rushed, and his character in the film doesn’t work in the same way that say Ben Affleck does in Gone Girl (if you’re going for something with a similar tone), but Golding helps to make Sean a more believable character. There’s also some decent work done in small parts by Linda Cardellini, Rupert Friend and Jean Smart, whilst Andrew Rannells and Aparna Nancherla feel wasted, their characters not quite working in the context of the film.
On a technical level, the film oozes old fashioned style. From the Saul Bass inspired opening title sequence to the production design for Emily’s house, there’s this sense of elegance throughout the film. This also extends to the costume design, which says so much about the characters of Stephanie and Emily. Stephanie is dressed in the type of clothes you’d get at a supermarket, ones that come off the shelf, which helps to convey the more subdued nature of her character at the start of the film. Emily’s costumes meanwhile have this sense of elegance and cool to them, mainly the suits that she wears, and as the costumes change throughout the film, it helps to reflect the way other characters impose their feelings onto Emily and Stephanie and how they respond to the image they are given.
Overall, A Simple Favour is a stylish, well acted film that is able to balance the tone well, but with a plot that doesn’t quite work as a whole. Sure the plot is engaging, but a lot of elements in the second half of the film feel rushed, like it needed 20 more minutes to get more in depth with the twists and the character changes that the twists convey. The best way I can describe it is to compare it to Gone Girl, which took its time in exploring the plot twists and using that to give us a deeper insight into the characters but here, the twists come too late in the game to really give us an understanding of the characters and the film as a whole suffers because of it. I wanted this to work better than it did, but as is, it just feels like there’s something missing that prevents the film from being a great thriller.
My Rating: 3.5/5