Monday 1 October 2018

Movie Review: A Simple Favor (2018)

A neo-noir comedy mystery, A Simple Favor establishes a promising premise but then immediately spirals out of control.

Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) is a suburban single mom, a mommy-site vlogger, and the perfect well-organized volunteer at the school attended by her young son Miles. She meets her polar opposite in Emily (Blake Lively), the mom of Miles' friend and classmate Nicky. Emily is sophisticated, hard-drinking, lives in a modern dream house, works in public relations for a downtown fashion firm, and is seemingly happily married to once-famous writer Sean (Henry Golding).

Despite their differences Stephanie and Emily quickly become friends, and share some deep dark secrets, including Stephanie revealing how her husband died and her unusual relationship with her brother, who is also deceased. Emily starts depending on Stephanie to pick up Nicky after school, and Stephanie is happy to oblige. After fulfilling one such simple favour, Stephanie is puzzled when Emily disappears. She reaches out to Sean, triggering a wild investigation into Emily's whereabouts.

Directed by Paul Feig and written by Jessica Sharzer, A Simple Favor offers a bright and breezy opening 30 minutes. The contrast between Stephanie and Emily is deliciously attractive, and the two women see in each other endless possibilities to dream about and maybe partially fulfil another life. With both Kendrick and Lively in sparkling form, the film crackles with potential.

Then Emily disappears, and suddenly A Simple Favor takes a sharp turn into ludicrous Nancy Drew territory with needlessly salacious undertones. Stephanie goes into full amateur detective territory, poking into Stephanie's life for clues while not restraining herself in any way from worming her way in Emily's house and Sean's heart. 

Before long Sharzer has bombarded the plot with parental abuse, evil twins, a murderous house fire, incest, lesbian lust, a lake drowning, nude paintings, and return-from-the-dead spooky cliches. The idea fragments, all borrowed from the classic noir repertoire, arrive at a dizzying pace, none are given room to breathe and develop, and the film dissolves into a mess.

When the convoluted secret at the heart of Emily's disappearance finally reveals itself all logic is left behind, a case of a supposedly wickedly smart villain behaving as stupidly as possible to totally undermine a devious plot. A Simple Favor wants to have fun with an updated noir, but fails to assemble the pieces into a coherent whole.

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