By Anna Husted EBS Film Critic
Paul Feig is one of my favorite directors. A master of directing comedy with such films as “Bridesmaids” and “Spy,” I was excited when I saw his name attached to the thriller, “A Simple Favor,” a film with arguably no protagonist and a whole lot of crazy.
“A Simple Favor” stars Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively as two very new best friends, but both in need of each other. Lively’s Emily and Kendrick’s Stephanie both have dark secrets they have shared only with each other, but Emily’s secret goes much deeper than what she reveals. After Emily goes missing on a work trip to Miami, Stephanie takes care of Emily’s son and husband, picking up the former from school and cooking both dinner. Stephanie’s intentions appear pure, but quickly transition into morbid as she dreams of moving in and fully replacing Emily.
Stephanie is an adult version of Kayla from the film “Eighth Grade”: She looks for friends in virtual places and never has a clue when she is truly liked or just being used. This obliviousness doesn’t seem to bother her because she is the perfect motherly and wifely image to the vlogosphere; she turns to her video blog subscribers when Emily is still not found and the pieces of her life don’t add up.
The costume design in “A Simple Favor” is by far the best part. Lively’s masculine pantsuits and her ability to walk elegantly in heels on a cobblestone sidewalk bring a sense of thrill and suspicion. We know we can’t trust her from the beginning due to this overt costume design.
Although “A Simple Favor” is simultaneously cultivated and fun, it loses the plot when the big twist is neither shocking nor cleverly revealed. Emily’s husband’s aloofness feels forced, and we have no one to root for after Stephanie shows her true nutty colors by moving into Emily’s house just weeks after her disappearance.
While “A Simple Favor” is a fun ride with fantastic costumes, Feig’s excellence is comedy and it shows because the few over-the-top crazy girl moments are the best because they were meant to make us laugh.
What doesn’t work, specifically at the end, is when a neighborhood dad comes to Stephanie’s rescue when he has no motive for helping her other than feeling sorry for her ignorance. This character had such a small role earlier in the film that it was surprising to see him return at the end.
The unsatisfying ending perhaps adds to the craziness of the film, but more likely “A Simple Favor” fell flat because it introduced a gun in the first act without ever letting it go off in the third. While the film’s weaknesses are distracting, a runtime of less than two hours still had me curious for what the ending had in store.
“A Simple Favor” is now available to rent on Amazon Prime, Google Play or YouTube.
Anna Husted has a master’s in film studies from New York University. In Big Sky, she can be found up on the hill or at the movies at Lone Peak Cinema. When not gazing at the silver screen or watching her new favorite TV show, she’s skiing, fishing or roughhousing with her cat, Indiana Jones.