A Simple Favor (2018)

“Most times when a woman vanishes, she has a reason.”

A classier take on the old mismatched sitcom The Odd Couple with a mystery mindset, A Simple Favor tosses genre identification straight out the driver side window, letting its hair down and venturng off towards something new and eventually a bit too unrecognizable. I wouldn’t call it a comedy because it prefers to be stoic, nor would I call it a thriller because all of the big questions are undone by relatively straightforward, easy answers. A Simple Favor has the right ingredients and cooks them with a unique preparation, but it doesn’t allow its meatiest aspects to rest before carving and serving. The juices run, turning the picture pallid and dry and chewy. At least the presentation is Instagram worthy.

Single parent Stephanie Ward (Anna Kendrick) runs a popular Mommy vlog, sharing videos that range from cooking to arts and crafts to falsified life advice. Quite inventively, A Simple Favor uses brief clips of Stephanie’s recordings to mitigate and direct the storyline. She’s the protagonist and we flashback in the film through her own recollection of previous events, meeting Emily Nelson (Blake Lively) and her husband Sean (Henry Golding). Emily is a no B.S., snarky PR businesswoman and a style icon, dressed like a suburban Annie Lennox with the manipulative edge of Gone Girl’s femme fatale Amy Dunne. Married to Sean, a one-hit wonder of an author who now teaches college English courses, Emily thinly veils her discontent. Calls go unanswered, Stephanie becomes an unpaid babysitter, and Emily is eventually declared missing. Most moviegoers will have plenty of questions at this point.

Did Emily leave on her own volition? Maybe Sean had something to do with her disappearance. Cops think Stephanie knows more than she leads on. A Simple Favor builds a duplicitous relationship between its triangle of characters, hardly letting its guard down or tricking us with anything believable, and its razor-sharp open only gets more dull and less cutting the farther down the rabbit hole it goes. The web of lies are spun so inelegantly that the twists and the turns run into themselves, leaving any and all motivation behind in a final act that can only be described as convoluted. A Simple Favor ends in a tailspin, so much so that I honestly could not tell you why a single person behaved the way he or she did. There’s nothing simple or logical about the route it takes.

A Simple Favor clicks when it calmly and coolly hides the hand that its playing from the audience, and it falls apart when the story openly lays its cards on the table to admit its bluff. Kendrick’s sweet personality mixes well with a few dashes of the sinister, and Henry Golding – hot off the success of Crazy Rich Asians – reaffirms that he really has the talent to be a leading male actor. Most intriguing though is Lively, a chameleon of a performer who plays Emily as a woman not bound to her femininity. She’s a working woman, is bad with kids, enjoys a stiff midday gin martini. A Simple Favor has attractive, compulsive characters, and Paul Feig directs the book adaptation with a wholly unique tone, but the film is never better than or equal to the sum of its fascinating parts.

“You do not want to be friends with me.”

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

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