After several scandalous publicity stunts and teaser trailers about the film, “A Simple Favor” came to theatres to relieve us from the hype-charged air created by Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick. Based on the novel by Darcey Bell, the mystery movie features both actresses as strong female characters caught in a constantly shifting, cat-and-mouse game.
The film starts out simply: vlogger-mom Stephanie (Kendrick) investigates the disappearance of her best friend and confidant, Emily (Lively). In addition to growing her online fanbase, Stephanie becomes her own private detective and outsmarts fashion moguls and camp counselors alike. Over the course of the film, stakes are heightened as Emily’s case unravels. Murder, betrayal and greed lay traps for the two mothers.
Stephanie is the quintessential Kendrick character — simultaneously quirky and awkward yet sophisticated and sexy. The plot follows the progression of Stephanie and Emily’s friendship, allowing viewers to join Stephanie throughout the experience of finding her only friend.
Stephanie’s Martha Stewart-like facade crumbles quickly, and we find out that she is an unreliable narrator, which is both frustrating and essential to conceal the turns of events later in the film.
Lively, on the other hand, breaks out of her Barbie-doll typecast to play the deceitful and conniving phantom, Emily. She’s a grossly successful career woman among a gaggle of stay-at-home moms and at least one dad, played by the hilarious Andrew Rannells. It seems that everyone knows an Emily — that “How does she do it?” girl who can balance the world on her pinky. Viewers can attach themselves to Lively and her mysterious ambiance and, as a result, can relate to Stephanie’s obsession to find her.
What begins as a classic, clean whodunit quickly escalates into a web of plot twists that not even the characters themselves can decipher. The movie gets close to the level of “Gone Girl” in terms of plot-spinning during the first half, but soon after that, “A Simple Favor” becomes more of a dark comedy than a cinematic thriller.
As viewers sort through which characters they can and can’t trust, the film becomes confusing. The plot’s pacing increases exponentially as the storyline progresses, and there are plenty of “Wait, what just happened?” moments.
Despite the whiplash effect it causes, “A Simple Favor” gives us a refreshing look at interpersonal relationships during a crisis. From the budding chemistry bubbling between Emily’s husband, Sean (Henry Golding), and Stephanie to the rising tension caused by the police’s steadily increasing interest in the duo, the characters go through the stages of grief while learning to avoid the pitfalls around them.
The dialogue for this movie is snappy and stylish, thanks to screenwriter Jessica Sharzer. Kendrick and Lively certainly share some laugh-out-loud moments, and watching the two banter makes this movie as enjoyable as it is. However, these moments sometimes kill the seriousness of the high-anxiety situations with which they are juxtaposed.
Overall, most moviegoers will enjoy “A Simple Favor.” Though it makes use of tropes across several genres, the film has a certain originality. The mystery pulls together without loose ends — as long as one doesn’t look too deep into how perfectly things fall into place during the last third of the movie. “A Simple Favor” can come off as a bit too wacky, but for a casual viewer, its dark dramatics, sexy feel and consistent humor get the job done.