A Simple Favor (2018)

We really do go see new movies sometimes. But as late, our luck has been horrible. The Nun was painful, after all. But we’d seen the trailer for this film a few months back and it looked like Becca’s favorite kind of movie (and Sam’s least) — Gone Girl-style suburban true crime murder mystery. The actual movie, however, deviates wildly from the promise of the trailer.

I saw this movie under protest. After all, I wanted to see Hell Fest. Or The Predator. I could have even hate watched Venom. Because I have been the unfortunate recipient of Gone GIrl — not to mention movies like it such as The Girl on the Train and other works by its author like Sharp Objects and the upcoming Widows — viewings in the triple digits. The funny thing is, I ended up liking it way more than Becca.

Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick from Twilight and Pitch Perfect) is a craft vlogger and single mom who constantly outdoes every other parent through sheer energy. But under her mania lies some pretty dark secrets and little to no real friends, not to mention a man. Emily (Blake Lively) is also a working mom, but is more known as a PR director for a major fashion company. These women couldn’t be more different — Stephanie prefers to hide in the background and apologize while Emily isn’t afraid to stand out and offend everybody.

The friendship between their children brings them together and the playdates their kids have to build the foundation for their fast friendship. They are soon trading confessions: Emily is frustrated with her husband’s lack of success. And Stephanie slept with her half-brother and may have had a child with him, which led to the death of both him and her husband.

Emily then asks for that simple favor: can Stephanie babysit Nicky while Sean is in London and she has to tend to a work emergency? That favor extends for days as Emily goes missing. And once her body is found in a Michigan lake, all hell breaks loose.

That’s when this movie descends into the twists and turns of a whodunit (but not a giallo, as much as I was wanting some black gloved killings and Ivan Rassimov to show up), with Stephanie caught in the midst of Emily’s psychotic ways, Sean’s devotion to her and her suddenly growing popularity amongst the local moms and her internet audience.

The film goes way over the deep end, bringing in the giallo staples of the unknown twin (actually triplet) and a family history of violence and insanity. Jean Smart shows up for all of a minute as Emily’s mother here. 

A Simple Favor is the first movie that Paul Feig has directed since his divisive Ghostbusters reboot. I enjoyed the style in the film and the soundtrack, particularly the usage of Brigitte Bardot and Serge Gainsbourg’s Bonnie and Clyde (actually, the film has multiple Bardot songs).

This is a movie unsure of what movie it really wants to be. Is it a mystery? Is it a comedy? Is it both? It never truly becomes anything, wildly shifting in tone to the point of absurdity — and not in a good way. That said, Lively and Kendrick are quite good in this, much better than anyone else in the film.

I always ask Becca if she has anything she wants to add to our review. She said that she’d give this movie a D or an F, because she wanted it to be closer to the thriller the trailer promised. And she wonders if Anna Kendrick only plays the parts of ditzy nice girls who apologize too much and get into shenanigans all the time, to which I answered, “Yes, I think that’s pretty much who she is in real life.”

Also: I call bullshit on a major plot point. Emily pays cash to rent her car from  Budget Rent-A-Car, which doesn’t allow vehicle rentals without a credit or debit card, much less a valid driver’s license. They would have had a full record of Emily renting the car. It would have been much simpler if she had someone else rent her the car and then paid that person. I realize that I’m being anal retentive about plot holes while I let gigantic ones in Argento movies pass by like bullets through the doorhole in Opera. But come on, people!

Of note, this was based on a novel by Darcey Bell, which has wildly different plot points, such as Emily only being a twin and being less complicit in the death of her sibling, as well as a completely different ending.

Postscript: As we left the theater, we noticed that there were only three other people there. One was an older gentleman in a full three piece suit who sat in front of us. Behind us was a younger couple that Becca asked about their feeling on the film. No one really liked it all that much and the older fellow called me sir while we talked and remarked how much better he likes Agatha Christie than modern mystery. We walked out of the theater late and alone on a Sunday night only for us to realize that the older gentleman was driving his son to a date. His son had to be in his late 20’s/early 30’s and the older man waited in the car for his son to embrace his date and kiss her goodnight. When we said goodbye, he said, “Have a nice week.” It was perhaps the sweetest and strangest thing that has happened to us in some time.

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