Watching Blake Lively in the Paul Feig directed ‘A Simple Favor’, she finally came across as the woman who calls Ryan Reynolds her better half. She plays this snide martini-toting fashionista PR exec in this enjoyable “black comedy” which thrives on strong central performances but befuddles with its willfully schizophrenic tone, in this adaptation of a Darcey Bell novel.
Opposite Lively’s Emily is the perky Anna Kendrick as Stephanie, a busybody single mom who runs a vlog and is yet to meet a volunteer sheet she didn’t plaster with her signature. It makes sense that Stephanie and Emily cross paths at their kids’ daycare center but the gulf in worlds is crystal. The ditzy Stephanie is seemingly awed by the dapper Emily, who struts gracefully through a downpour to their first meeting.
Thanks to their sons’ insistence on a playdate, they become friends, as unlikely as that may seem on the surface. The film resides in Feig territory in these moments, as they connect over alcoholic beverages and dance to weird French pop music. But with the black comedy tag in mind, we expect something craziness to rise to the fore. We’re just not sure where from.
Emily looks like a sure bet given her seemingly volatile nature. Her husband, the once-renowned author Sean Townsend (Henry Golding) talks about how much of an enamoring enigma she is, stopping just short of calling her a psychopath. But there’s some Rupert Pupkin-King of Comedy potential in Stephanie. Her seemingly benign use of words like sis and girlfriend when chatting with Emily angled her as needy had me tingling. Surely this whole arrangement was too good to be true.
As we dig into the story, the rot rears its head, even before the simple favor arrives. Emily asks Stephanie to collect her son from school after an emergency, opening the can of crazy and sparking the film’s flirts with multiple tones and genres. Since it is hinted at in the opening scene, it is not that much of a spoiler to say Emily disappears and borderline obsessive Stephanie is incredibly worried.
I call ‘A simple Favor’ a willing schizo because there is some measure of control in the way it channels noirs and thrillers with erotic, comic, harrowing and sardonic tinges. It’s engaging enough to watch the film dabble in a plethora of tones though the lack of a single-minded drive keeps it from being truly incisive.
The comparisons to ‘Gone Girl’ have been made, and it’s easy to feel the echoes as small-town domesticity turns into a circus. At the same time, we get a whiff of something resembling ‘Basic Instinct’ as a seperate sensation behind the ears evokes ‘Death Become Her’ (which I haven’t seen in ages but somehow came to mind).
I would have enjoyed ‘A Simple Favor’ more if it committed to being edgier and nastier. The film gets very tense at times but Feig is great at undercutting the tension with timely humor, almost like a humble brag; as if saying I could leave you in the traumatic and despairing depths one would recall from say Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Prisoners’ but nah.
Convoluted but never out of control, ‘A Simple Favor’ settles on a tone at its coda without seeming like a cheat. It’s a feel that leaves us comfortable; a feel that allows us to have enormous fun with our two female leads, who spoil us with the layered characters they are allowed to inhabit whilst flexing well toned comic muscles.