Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.
Based on the novel of the same name by Darcey Bell, A Simple Favor brings film noir mystery to the brightly colored suburbs and it does so with the not-so-subtle comic touch of director Paul Feig. The film has been marketed as a slick mystery thriller that would be a major departure for the director known for such broad comedies as Bridesmaids, Spy, and the Ghostbusters remake. It definitely features much darker subject matter than Feig’s previous work, but make no mistake, A Simple Favor is still a comedic movie.
Anna Kendrick plays Stephanie Smothers, an energetic single mother who is the first parent to volunteer for every activity. She also has her own video blog, in which he offers helpful tips for moms including recipe and craft ideas. Her vlog seems to have a decent following, even if her boundless energy and positivity keeps her as something of an outcast among the parents at her son’s school. She doesn’t really have any friends, but that all changes when she meets Blake Lively’s Emily Nelson, the mysterious mother of her son’s friend and a PR rep for a high profile designer in the city. When the boys want to have a play date, Emily invites Stephanie over for some mommy drinking.
Despite Emily’s warnings that “you don’t want to be friends with me,” Stephanie continues to cozy up and even reveals one of her darker secrets. One day, Emily calls to ask if Stephanie can pick her son up at school because she is busy at work. Four days later and Emily has still not returned. When Emily turns up dead, Stephanie finds solace in the arms of Emily’s husband Sean and begins to take over the life of Emily that she had started to covet. But mysterious occurrences soon make Stephanie begin to wonder whether Emily has truly passed on or if there is something more nefarious afoot.
Try as it might to lean into thriller territory, A Simple Favor is still a comedy; a dark comedy, to be sure, but a comedy nonetheless. In fact, the darker the subject matter gets, the goofier the tone of the movie becomes. Tone is a major problem for A Simple Favor. It bounces around between comedy, horror, and stylish detective thriller rather willy-nilly, as if the filmmakers could never really decide what kind of a movie they wanted it to be.
The tone issues contribute to the mystery at the center of the movie never quite taking hold. There is very little in the way of suspense, and the ultimate revelation in the end may not have been expected; but it did not feel like much of a surprise either. There is some joy in watching Stephanie as she begins to uncover the truth, but her investigation does not really begin until the final act of the movie and it would have been interesting to see more of her progression into the private detective she aims to be by the end.
What counteracts the out-of-place goofiness and lackluster mystery, though, is the perfectly cast leads. It is difficult to think of anyone better than Anna Kendrick to play the chipper, energetic Stephanie, holding back a hidden secret of her past and a desire for the seemingly more glamorous life of Emily. And Blake Lively pulls off the glamorous, but distant Emily who you believe could lure anyone into her crazy world despite the devilish glint in her eye. They are given solid support from Henry Golding, fresh off his debut film performance as the romantic lead in Crazy Rich Asians. Finally, there is the trio of parents who watch and comment on the actions of our leads from an arm’s length like a judgmental Greek chorus. Their snarky commentary often feels superfluous, but does provide some solid humor at times as well.
A Simple Favor is worth seeing for its leads and has some good comedy littered throughout, but it never comes together as a whole and ultimately fails to deliver the slick, twisty mystery it promised to be.
A Simple Favor opens today at the AMC Kent Station 14, the AMC Southcenter 16, and the Landing Stadium 14 in Renton.