This strange hodge-podge of comedy and thriller from director Paul Feig can’t decide whether it wants to poke light-hearted fun at the recent thrillers like Gone Girl, or actually be the next Gone Girl. But it’s heaps of fun regardless.
The funky and upbeat credits sequence initially suggests a light comedic tone, as the film introduces its perky but meek heroine Stephanie, played by Anna Kendrick. Stephanie is a single mother whose life revolves around taking care of her son, running a popular vlog where she shares recipes and parenting tips with other mums, and volunteering for every available activity at her son’s school. Her hyper personality is a turn-off to the rest of the parents and she doesn’t seem to have any friends, until Emily (Blake Lively), an enigmatic glamazon with a high-flying job whose son attends the same school, casually invites her for drinks at her place.
Stephanie is absolutely dazzled by Emily and it doesn’t end at her new friend’s palatial modern house and fabulous wardrobe. Emily drips confidence, cusses like a sailor, can make a mean martini, and invites Stephanie to share her darkest guiltiest secrets. And then one day, Emily asks her friend for a simple favour: to look after her son after school for a couple of hours while she’s putting out a fire at work. A couple of hours turn into a day, then two days, and Emily is still a no-show. While the police are investigating the disappearance, Stephanie helps Emily’s bewildered husband Sean (Henry Golding) with the running of the household, and slowly begins to question how well she really knew her friend.
Prior to Emily’s disappearance the movie plays like a zippy “mums from different walks of life” comedy, with wonderful chemistry between Kendrick and Lively that made me hope for more future onscreen pairings for these two. Her role here is not a massive departure for Kendrick, but as our window into the story she’s delightful as awkward-but-adorable Stephanie who, later in the film, finds inner reserves that nobody would have suspected. Blake Lively meanwhile comes off as a great throwback to the classic sexy femme fatales; previously I’ve been more familiar with her as a glamorous presence in gossip/fashion magazines, but judging by this film she really has genuine movie star charisma and talent to burn. She has a fantastic role to sink her teeth into, as well: Emily is an unsettling, mercurial personality who can be warm and charming one minute, then almost scary the next, and never less than alluring.
After Emily goes missing, the transition to a darker thriller is a bit of a bumpy ride, as the tone seems to change from scene to scene, sometimes even slipping into the sort of broad comedy that reminds you that this movie came from the same guy who made Bridesmaids and Spy. It’s like someone put separate ingredients into a blender but forgot to switch it on properly, so the results are a tad lumpy. The ending is a ridiculous medley of deception and reversals, which is not in itself a problem, but being unsure of the movie’s intent it’s hard to know how seriously we’re meant to take it. Despite that, A Simple Favour is a fun watch throughout and is a lot more tightly scripted than some of Feig’s recent efforts (I could only pinpoint one scene that felt like actors’ improv gone for too long).