Director Paul Feig has made some inspired comedies in recent years such as Bridesmaids and Spy, but he was also behind the camera for the lackluster 2016 Ghostbusters reboot. So, hearing that he was making a thriller starring Blake Lively and Anan Kendrick was certainly confusing as to what kind of film we’d be getting. Turns out, the final product is a exactly the mish-mash it sounded like, but somehow works.
A Simple Favor sets up Emily Nelson (Lively) as the New York City working mom who seems to prioritize her handbag over her family. Stephanie Smothers (Kendrick), on the other hand, is a Martha Stewart-style video blogger. The two meet through their sons, and one day Emily asks Stephanie a simple favor—to pick up her son after school. Emily never returns for her son, and her disappearance sets Stephanie off on a mission to find her. What follows is a wild, twisting story full of sex, murder, and old family secrets. It’s full of bright colors, that feel oddly out of place in a thriller, and an amazing wardrobe. It feels like a throwback to the type of thrillers popularized in the 90s, but with tongue firmly planted in cheek.
That humor is what makes the film work. While never an outright comedy or parody, A Simple Favor is definitely having fun with the stereotypes it sets up at the beginning. It oscillates between dark, violent scenes and laugh out loud depictions of New York high fashion and the PTA. By the end it has mostly torn down the images of Emily and Stephanie and constructed in their place if not more real characters, definitely more fun characters. That’s kind of the underlying message here—women are forced into creating false edifices for the world, but underneath is something both less and more wholesome. That Kendrick carries off the idea like a pro is no surprise to anyone who has seen in anything outside the Pitch Perfect films, but Lively is the real revelation here. Mostly known as a TV actress, she shines here playing a queen of bad who might not be so bad, or maybe she is?
The film struggles in its final act as the trapeze act it’s working starts to falter under the pressure of one too many twists. You might have to pause and discuss with your significant other exactly what is happening. That ends up a being a small detraction from the overall fun this film offers. It’s campy and catty in all the right ways.