Entertaining Noir-Comedy is a Nasty Delight
Director Paul Feig brings his comedic touches with neo-noir flourishes to "A Simple Favor," a sleek and wildly engaging comedy-thriller hybrid. Even when it falters a bit in its final act, Feig and his actors keep things lively and spirited throughout with snappy chemistry and biting delivery.
Anna Kendrick stars as Stephanie, an eager-to-please mother who is always the first to volunteer to help at her son's school. She is a "Mommy Blogger," creating daily vlogs that teach the mothers of the world everything from new recipes to origami.
One day after school, Stephanie's son wants to have a playdate with one of his friends, who is also waiting for his mom to pick him up. A fancy car pulls up and a tall, beautiful woman steps out, releasing a whiff of mystery and intrigue into the air. She is Emily (Blake Lively), a perfectly dressed PR representativ who is the complete opposite of Stephanie.
Emily doesn't seem interested in dealing with setting up playdates but gives in as long as Stephanie agrees to come over for a martini. The two of them strike up an unusual friendship, which is bound by ritualistic afternoon drinks. One afternoon, Emily calls Stephanie requesting "a simple favor" and asks if Stephanie can pick her son up after school because she is tied up at work. When Emily doesn't show up later that night, the hours turn to days and all of a sudden Emily is missing. Stephanie contacts Emily's husband Sean (Henry Golding), who hasn't heard from her either.
As the mystery unfolds, Feig maintains a genuine sense of suspense throughout, allowing for some surprises before things get a bit too busy, as they tend to do with these kinds of movies. Kendrick is as charming as ever, playing the perky mom on the case, but Lively is a bit of a revelation here, exuding 1950s noir magnetism unlike anything she has ever been given to do before. Kendrick and Lively's opposites-attract chemistry keep the film interesting as we discover Stephanie and Emily couldn't be any more different from each other.
Feig's comedy elements and the mystery components work well separately but when the screenplay (adapted from Darcey Bell's novel by Jessica Sharzer) fuses them together, some lines of dialog feel a bit misplaced. It's an unfortunate hiccup - particularly in the last act - when everything that came before it was so delightfully fun. Feig has fun playing with genres, and "A Simple Favor" is another example of him trying to breathe new life into familiar tropes, for better or for worse.