A Simple Favor (2018) Review

WHAT HAPPENED TO EMILY?


 

Since the beginning of the 2010’s era of cinematic entertainment, director Paul Feig has slowly been making a name for himself. Like many in Hollywood, Feig started out as actor, starring several TV / movies projects like Dirty Dancing, The Jack Thomas Show, Zombie High, Zoo Radio, and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. Before long, Feig moved up the career chain in Hollywood, directing several TV episodes, including The Office, Arrested Development, Weeds, and Nurse Jackie. After handling the director’s chair for episodic television series, Feig graduated to directing feature films, starting out with 2003’s I am David, as his directorial debut and his sophomore film Unaccompanied Minors in 2006. While both those movies didn’t get him that much “notoriety” amongst moviegoers, Feig did finally get the recognition as a “credible director” when his third movie Bridesmaid was released back in 2011. The film, which starred Kristen Wig, Maya Rudolph, Melissa McCarthy, Rebel Wilson, and several others, was met with critical acclaim by critics and moviegoers, garnishing well over $288 million at the box office against its $32 million production budget as well catapulting the careers (in Hollywood) for several actresses. Following that, Feig continued to work with actress Melissa McCarthy, releasing The Heat that following year (2013), Spy in 2015, and Ghostbusters in 2016, which was initially criticized and faced heavy scrutiny from critics / moviegoers. Also, as a side-note, Feig has also acted as a producer for several projects, including the TV show The Office as well as movies like Spy, The Peanuts Movie, Snatched, and Ferdinand. Now Lionsgate and director Paul Feig presents his latest film with the psychological comedy thriller movie A Simple Favor. Does this newest by Feig make up for his mistakes in 2016’s Ghostbusters or is the director fail to tap into the psychological thriller aspect and nuances?

THE STORY


Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick) is a recently widowed / stay-at-home mom, who spends way too much of her time volunteering to help out her so Miles’ (Joshua Satine) class at school as well as providing helping cooking / parenting tips on her vlog. With her son befriending Nicky (Ian Ho), a fellow classmate at school, Stephanie meets fellow mom Emily Nelson (Blake Lively), an elegant, mystifying, and aloof PR executive who works in New York City, comminuting from their suburban Connecticut town. Taken by personality and lifestyle, Stephanie immediately bonds with Emily; each telling about their lives and sharing deep personal secrets. Unfortunately, that all changes when Emily asks “a simply favor” from Stephanie on day: to pick up Nicky from school. However, Emily never comes to get Nicky and doesn’t seem to respond to Stephanie’s calls or texts. Growing worried and concerned, Stephanie calls Emily’s husband Sean (Henry Golding), who’s away visiting his mother. As the police begin searching for the missing of Emily, Stephanie tends to a grieving Sean as the two start to grow close in a romantic connection. However, while the events point to unspeakable conclusion, Stephanie begins to unravel the mystery behind Emily and her ambiguous past; believing that the woman she once called “a friend” is not the person she presented herself to be.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


To be honest (and I know you’ll guys laugh at this), my first impression of Paul Feig wasn’t from any of the movies that he directed, but from his supporting acting role in the 1995’s kid comedy film Heavyweights (being a 90s kid…. I love watching the movie). Beyond that I never really saw much of him in his acting roles as well as the movies / TV episodes he directed until I saw the 2011 film Bridesmaid. While I liked that movie, I really didn’t pay much attention to who directed that particular feature. After that, I fell in love with his two Melissa McCarthy movies (i.e. 2013’s The Heat and 2015’s Spy), which are both definitely my personal favorite of Feig’s films. Of course, Feig’s last movie directing endeavor (from the time that this post is being done) was 2016’s remake / reboot of Ghostbusters. Personally, I liked that movie. It wasn’t as terrible as some were making it out to be (Katie McKinnon was great in the movie), but it was completely unnecessary remake that no one really asked for and the story was kind of bland and conventional. Still, I enjoyed it, but I wanted something different from Feig (or at least some innovated / creative than what given for Ghostbusters.

This brings me around to talking about A Simple Favor, Paul Feig’s latest release in 2018. I do somewhat remember hearing about this movie online sometime ago; reading that Paul Feig was gonna be doing a new film that was a bit of departure of some of his more recent endeavors in the comedy genre, especially those with Melissa McCarthy in the lead role. When I saw the film’s trailers (both online and several times in theaters), I was immediately hooked by the film’s premise, especially since the film starred Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively as well as being directed by Paul Feig (with the tagline being the “dark side of Paul Feig”). Again, it was something different from Feig’s recent film projects and really did make me intrigued to see this movie when it got released in September. So (naturally), I went to see the movie a bit after its opening release weekend. What did I think of it? Well, I really did like it. Yes, does have a few minor problems, but (as a whole), A Simple Favor is sort of like a “welcomed surprise” to the psychological thriller genre as well as a fine addition to Feig’s catalogue of film, especially thanks to the performances by both Kendrick and Lively. It’s no Gone Girl, but its much better than A Girl on the Train.

For those who didn’t know, A Simple Favor is adapted by the book of the same name by author Darcey Bell. Unfortunately, I was unable to read the book, so my review is gonna be solely on the Feig’s film and not on what was add, changed, or omitted between the two. So, with director Paul Feig at the helm, A Simple Favor is initially a drastic paradigm shift for what he normal directs, especially if one examines the several past cinematic endeavors Feig has done prior to this movie’s release. Essentially, it’s a good thing, with Feig stepping out from behind his classic “comedy” routine” he’s grown accustom and step into something a little bit (i.e. a more serious drama feature). However, doing that could backfire on a director (treading into unfamiliar territory that they are not familiar with). Thankfully, Feig hits a stride more than stumbles in A Simple Favor, finding the director’s talents adept when approaching the narrative. To be honest, the film, which follows in the same veins of Gone Girl and A Girl on the Train (i.e. following a suspenseful psychological tale that taps into the women’s experiences through its main characters), is genuinely well-presented, with Feig using the movie’s two main leads (Kendrick and Lively) to their full advantage in making the characters of Stephanie and Emily engaging right from the get-go. In truth, Feig makes the film engrossing, allowing the film’s narrative to unfold in a tried-and-true way of a psychological thriller, but in a really fun and cinematically entertaining way. Feig also brings a new twist to this genre by simply adding a touch of his comedy nuances in A Simple Favor. I’m not saying that its “laugh out loud” humor that’s found in his previous works, but rather a comedic underlining…. I guess in what some people might call “dark comedy”, utilizing some comedic levity in an otherwise serious / gravitas feature.

The film’s script, which was based on Bell’s novel and penned by Jessica Sharzer, gives a good dose of the nuances from the psychological thriller genre, presenting (and writing) a tale of two women and how their lives become intertwined of seeking clues and revealing secrets. As to be expected, the script (as well as Feig’s direction) is riddled with plenty of shocking twists and revelations, which makes the story intriguing, but it doesn’t get dragged down with bland writing, indifferent scenarios, or unlikeable (much like what happened in Tate Taylor’s 2016 film The Girl on the Train). In truth, the film keeps a lot of its own momentum going for majority of the picture, painting a very intriguing tale for not just what “happened” to Emily, but also surrounding the character of Stephanie, who undergoes a sort of transformation of character for the movie.

In the realm of technical filmmaking achievements, A Simple Favor does succeed in being a nicely crafted feature, presenting a wide array of movie nuances that are pleasing to the eye. I do have to say that several of the costumes / wardrobe attire in the movie (most notably the ones that Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively wear) look really fantastic and perfectly compliment those actors / actresses that wear them. Thus, the costume designs by Renee Ehrlich Kalfus are definitely great. Other areas, including cinematography by John Schwartzman, art direction by Brandt Gordon, production designs by Jefferson Sage, and set decorations by Patricia Larman should also be mentioned for their contributions made for bringing this fictional cinematic world to life on-screen…be it various locations and sets or bringing a sense of filmmaking aspects / nuances to the proceedings. Granted, I don’t think that this film will be nominated for any of the technical awards during the award season, but the movie itself looks good and doesn’t really have any type of bad blemishes that makes the feature “look bad” (on a technical filmmaking level) in anyway. Lastly, while the film’s score, composed by Theodore Shapiro, is well-roundly good from start to finish, the movie also features a lot of musical selections songs from various artist, including Jean-Paul Killer’s “Ca S’Est Arrange”, Francoise Hardy’s “Comment Te Dire Adieu”, Brigitte Bardot’s “La Madrague”, Zaz’s “Les Passants” and several others, which do add a certain “flavor” (in terms of background music songs) to the film.

There are a few minor problems that I had with A Simple Favor, which do keep it from being truly outstanding. While the movie does have plenty nuances and storytelling elements from the psychological thriller genre, it does go quite deep enough as I was expecting it to. Granted, Feig doesn’t completely go “full blown psychological thriller drama”, but the movie could’ve benefited with a bit more “grounded” narrative. This is especially true when examining the story as a whole. The film’s “dark comedy” aspects does surprisingly well for majority of the feature. However, it does clash (from time to time in the film) with some of the more serious / gravitas moments in varying parts. Additionally, there are some aspects that aren’t quite fully fleshed out in the movie. An example of this how quickly Stephanie “warms up” to Emily’s husband Henry. What does neighbors think of this? What does media think of this? Does Stephanie how wrong this (question herself)? All of these are good fundamental questions that are really questioned / examined as we (the viewers) and much of the film’s characters just simply “go with it”, never discussing the right or wrong of the situation. There’s also a little bit more that could’ve been revealed in both Stephanie and Emily’s past. Both have interesting (and almost tragic) past experiences that haunt them as Feig (as well as Sharzer) don’t go quite “in-depth” into these memories, but rather just enough to skim the surface to provide context to the narrative (kind of wanted to see more). Also, as to be expected, the film is littered with twists, turns, and revelations, which is common for a psychological thriller. While this is good and does keep the narrative’s edge quite sharp and engrossing, there are a few parts (especially towards the end) where there’s too many to count. Who’s telling the truth? Who’s lying? Who’s “double crossing” who? It all becomes a bit too much and almost like you need a “cheat sheet” on who’s telling the truth and who’s lying. However, most of these points are mostly minors ones and didn’t really hurt my overall enjoyment of the feature.

The cast in A Simple Favor is pretty good, with several recognizable faces from selected actors and actress from their previous career projects. Perhaps the best (and what actually elevates the movie) are in the performance of actresses Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively, who plays the film’s two main lead characters of Stephanie Smothers and Emily Townsend-Nelsen. Kendrick, known for her roles in Up in the Air, Into the Woods, and The Pitch Perfect trilogy is a perfect match for the character of Stephanie, utilizing her inherit nervous chatter and plucky / quirky attitude that makes her (Stephanie) so endearing. It’s also quite interesting to see this type of character undergo a slight transformation from happy / energetic mom become a super sleuth of sorts and Kendrick pulls that off beautifully; able to produce a combination of character emotions (i.e. empathy, nervousness, caring, concern, etc.) throughout the feature. As for Lively, known for her roles in The Shallows, The Age of Adaline, and Gossip Girl, she was perfectly casted as Emily. Tall, beautiful, and having a sort friendly / distant / crude personality to make her character have that sort of “mysterious” from the moment she appears on-screen. Being the central “narrative plot point” of the movie, Lively is up to the task and certainly does carry herself masterfully for the entire film, which does help make her character of Emily a strong one. Additionally, both Kendrick and Lively have great on-screen chemistry together, which makes their character interactions (and overall friendship) believable.

While Kendrick and Lively do shine in the movie, A Simple Favor does have one large supporting character in the film, which is found in the character of Henry Townsend (Emily’s husband) and who is played by actor Henry Golding. Known for his roles in Crazy Rich Asians and Monsoon, Golding gives a solid performance as the worried / concerned husband as Emily disappears and does share a connection with Kendrick’s Stephanie as the two characters begin grow closer towards the second half of the feature. There could’ve been a bit more to his character (in the way of backstory development and some other nuances), but what’s presented in the movie does suffice (mostly) for the narrative. All in all, while the two female leads sort do outshine him, Golding does provide enough screen presence (and his acting talents) to make Henry a solid supporting character in the film.

With majority of the film focusing its narrative on the characters of Stephanie, Emily, and Sean (i.e. Kendrick, Lively, and Golding), the rest of the film’s cast is more of supporting roles, filling out small scenes here and there for continuity pieces or simply be “cogs” to the whole narrative (plot) driving force. This includes actor Rupert Friend (Homeland and Pride & Prejudice) as Emily’s boss Dennis Nylon, actor Dustin Milligan (X Company and Schitt’s Creek) as Stephanie brother Chris, actor Eric Johnson (Fifty Shades Freed and The Knick) as Stephanie’s recently deceased husband Davis, actor Bashir Salahuddin (Looking and GLOW), actress Linda Cardellini (Avengers: Age of Ultron and Legally Blonde) as Diana Hyland, actress Jean Smart (24 and Legion) as Emily’s mother Margaret Mclanden, actor Andrew Rannells (Girls and Black Monday), actress Kelly McCormack (Letterkenny and Killjoys), and actress Aparna Nancherla (Ginger Snaps and Corporate) as a group of parents (i.e. Darren, Stacy, and Sona) from Stephanie’s son’s school, and young actors Joshua Satine (Godless and Chicago Med) and Ian Ho (Willa) as Stephanie and Emily’s son Miles Smothers and Nick Townsend respectfully. Again, all of these actors and actresses give good performances in the movie, but are mostly minor supporting characters as the movie focuses on the main trio of characters for majority of the film’s duration.

FINAL THOUGHTS


A woman seeks to uncover the truth behind the disappearance of her best friend is the base premise of the movie A Simple Favor. Director Paul Feig’s newest feature offers plenty of nuances of the psychological thriller, with the director blending in his uniqueness to the film (i.e. dark comedy) to make for something quite engrossing. While the movie isn’t as grounded as other psychological thriller dramas out there and does seem to miss out of certain things (characters, scenarios, etc.), the movie itself ultimately succeeds thanks to Feig’s direction, a splash of its sense humor, an engrossing narrative plot, and solid cast of actors / actress, especially some standout ones from both Kendrick and Lively. To me, I liked this movie. It was definitely an enjoyable and entertainment feature that was well-acted and kept me really invested in the movie’s narrative, which is a good thing. Thus, I would say that I would “highly recommend” this movie, especially those who were a bit muffed at Feig’s take on Ghostbusters (definitely redeems him for that remake) and those just looking for something different to see than the same old stock of movies (i.e. superhero blockbusters, horror flicks, and a failed “page to screen” adaptations). Personally, it will be interesting to see what will Feig do next, especially after doing a project like this and succeeding at it. For now, while the movie doesn’t reach the classic / memorable status of other psychological thrillers (something akin to Finch’s 2014 film Gone Girl), Feig’s A Simple Favor does provide enough nuances from the subgenre to be make it a fun, entertaining, and engrossing endeavors; keeping viewers “invested” in the tale of Stephanie Smothers and what “really” happened to Emily Townsend….

4.2 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)

 

Released On: September 14th, 2018
Reviewed On: September 22nd, 2018

A Simple Favor  is 117 minutes long and is rated R for sexual content and language throughout, some graphic nudity, drug use, and violence

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