Directors: Paul Feig
Cinematography: John Schwartzman
Writers: Jessica Sharzer, Darcy Bell (novel)
Stars: Anna Kendricks, Blake Lively, Henry Golding
Here’s a film that attempted to be nine different films and genres at once. “A Simple Favor” is sometimes a light, funny experience that gets trampled on by jarring tonal shifts, odd story decisions, and less than ideal performances. I feel as if the goal of the film was to make me dislike every character…
The plot follows Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendricks), a dorky, lonely single-mother that is overbearing to everyone in her life. Her story begins on her Mom YouTube blog, talking affectionately about her best friend who is missing. The moment Stephanie meets the self-centered, mysterious mother Emily Nelson (Blake Lively), the small, shallow world Stephanie built up came crumbling down. The two characters are direct opposites and yet develop this close relationship is led by a downright fierce portrayal from Blake Lively.
The story flips when Stephanie is asked to do “a simple favor” for Emily by watching her son and five days later she ends up being declared dead. And in some ways, Stepanie, who was Emily’s best friend steps into her shadow, in her passing.
Now, the number of jarring narrative changes in the writing and plot leave it as genuinely uneven experience. It starts off with this ironic, satire-ish commentary from the other parents that drives the story in a weird direction only to be usurped an a noir and end up as a full-on horror show. From scene-to-scene, the tonal shifts are drastic. In some instances, it works, but at other times it falls completely flat by overwriting for emotion or humor.
However, it’s not all bad. Blake Lively is a real treat concealing this dark-side that almost feels as if it’s begging to come out early in the film. In my eyes, she elevates a Kendricks performance that was lacking comedic relief or an emotional punch. Both were cast well, but Lively’s performance didn’t feel like acting, it was much more natural. Kendrick had chemistry with Lively, but not with Henry Golding (Sean Townsend), who is the widower and somewhat of a sexual deviant of his own will. Following his motivation in the film gave me a headache. One of the more ridiculous character arcs of the year.
The film does have timely humor and that’s arguably the best aspect of the film, but the writing takes a nosedive when it tries to be anything more. Kendricks is at her best here when she’s being the ironic, goofy mother, but can’t match Lively’s range. While the mystery buildup is at least intriguing, the balance of the film is thrown off so much by it and it’s hard to feel invested in a story that doesn’t understand its own vision.
It’s a pass. I also don’t see it having much replay value. It does have some belly laughing humor, especially out of zany side-character Darren (Andrew Rannells), but his presence is unwarranted and brutally forced into the story and sections of the frame. It’s all over the place and when that’s the issue interest wanes heavily with nothing substantial to latch onto.