How well do you know your best friend? For young mom, Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick, MR. RIGHT; the PITCH PERFECT trilogy), when it comes to her BF, Emily Nelson (Blake Lively, CAFÉ SOCIETY), the answer is “Not very well”. Granted, the two women have only known each other for a few weeks. Their two boys are in the same Grade 1 class at school and they like to play together. The women, though, couldn’t be more different. Stephanie is the type of school mom that drives all the other parents crazy with her perfection and eagerness. She has her own vlog, offering recipes and crafts to moms just like her. She’s developed a bit of a following but nothing that will make her the next YouTube lifestyle star anytime soon. Emily, on the other hand, is a wealthy, high-powered PR director at a fashion house run by the pretentious Dennis Nylon (Rupert Friend, TV’s HOMELAND; STARRED UP) and married to Sean Townsend (Henry Golding, CRAZY RICH ASIANS), an English professor and published writer. One day, with Sean in England looking after his hospitalised mother, Emily has a work emergency and asks a simple favour of Stephanie – look after her son until dinnertime – which Stephanie readily agrees to do. Two days later, however, Stephanie gets concerned when Emily hasn’t picked up the boy or returned her calls. That sets the wheels in motion for Stephanie to try to solve the mysterious disappearance of her new best friend.
For the most part, A SIMPLE FAVOR is both fun and funny with its wacky mixture of comedy and neo-film noir. A number of pundits have called both it and the 2017 novel of the same name by Darcey Bell a “Gone Girl on steroids” and that’s a pretty accurate description. Kendrick, who seems to be making a career out of portraying kooky but loveable characters, is quite at home with the material but it’s really Lively who surprises with her femme fatale characterisation. Who (except her real-life husband Ryan Reynolds, I suppose) knew she could do comedy? Unfortunately, the story goes off the rails in the third act when the reason for Emily’s disappearance is revealed. At that point, the story gets dark and rather implausible, and it struggles to find the balance between humour and drama that existed in the first two acts. It seems that screenwriter Jessica Sharzer, someone whose first film I brought to Hong Kong in 2002, (Don’t believe me? Look her up on IMDb.) wasn’t able to improve upon the source material as this was one of the weaknesses of the novel too.
The film benefits from its strong supporting cast. Golding, whose Hollywood career seems to be taking off, does good work as Emily’s husband though his character is underused. He is currently working again with the film’s director Paul Feig (SPY; GHOSTBUSTERS (2016)) on a romantic comedy called LAST CHRISTMAS opposite Emilia Clarke (TV’s GOT; SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY; ME BEFORE YOU; TERMINATOR: GENISYS). It will probably hit the cinemas in December 2019. Rupert Friend has a small part but he makes the most of it playing a character who couldn’t be more different than Peter Quinn of TV’s HOMELAND. He’s got a great line in the film about wearing a silk scarf that’s pure bitchiness. Also enjoyable to watch but underused is Broadway actor-singer Andrew Rannells, who plays a stay-at-home dad. If you’ve ever seen him on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, you know how funny he is. It’s too bad he wasn’t able to let loose in this film.
All in all though, A SIMPLE FAVOR has more going for it than not. It’s not going to leave a lasting impression on your brain, but for two hours it is good entertainment. It’s a safe choice for a date night movie so check it out.
Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live in RTHK Radio 4’s studio on Thursday, October 4th at 8:30 am HK time!
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