Movie Review: A Simple Favor

A lifestyle vlogger gets caught up in the search for her missing friend

A Simple Favor (Nebezpečná laskavost)
Directed by Paul Feig
With Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding, Andrew Rannells, Linda Cardellini, Rupert Friend, Jean Smart

Hollywood comedies have been more miss than hit recently, so A Simple Favor comes as a bit of a surprise.

Paul Feig, who directed the awful reboot of Ghostbusters, redeems himself with this female-fronted comedy-mystery set in the suburbs.

The mood of the film is uplifted by a score of mostly vintage French pop songs, which are used with out much explanation save for a vague mention of a classic French film that has some similarities to the plot.

We are thrown right into the middle of the mystery when lifestyle video blogger Stephanie Smothers (played by Anna Kendrick) in the middle of a recipe announces that her new best friend, Emily Nelson (Blake Lively) asked her to pick up her son from school, and then promptly vanished without a trace.

Stephanie is one of those perky moms who volunteers for everything at school, while the other parents take a more laid back approach, and make fun of her a bit behind her back.

She couldn’t be more different than Emily, a glamorous free spirit who drinks quite a few martinis in the daytime and has some sort of job in the fashion industry.

The mystery mentioned at the start, though, isn’t as simple as it seems at first glance. The more Stephanie tries the find her friend Emily, the more it seems something isn’t quite right.

The film offers an odd mix of comedy, mystery and for a few brief moments some horror (or at least gruesome scenes). But the blend works well, with the comedy taking the edge off of some of the darker aspects of the plot.

The main thrust of the mystery isn’t exactly new, and people will see echoes of some other popular films but naming them would spoil the plot. Some key points are easy to guess, but even so chemistry with the leads makes its fun to watch anyway.

The new packaging, with the added element of vlogging, helps to add a new dimension.

And for once, the film doesn’t make too much of a mess of social media and technical references. The vlogging aspect works fairly well, with Stephanie giving recipe and decorating tips while she explains the latest happenings with the mystery.

Blake Lively steals the spotlight as the enigmatic Emily, who seems open and off guard while relaxing with Stephanie over after school martinis. But she always holds something back.

As the mystery deepens, it is clear that either she or her husband, the failed author Sean Townsend (Henry Golding) has been lying about several key aspects of the story.

Anna Kendrick does an adequate job as the vlogging detective, but doesn’t quite draw the audience in as much as she should. Her vlog is a shown as a bit ridiculous at first, and the audience starts by laughing at her character before slowly being drawn into supporting her.

Some of the minor characters are a bit bland and give the film made for TV feel.

The film is based on a novel of the same name by name by author Darcey Bell. The script was by Jessica Sharzer, who has written episodes of American Horror Story. She has a sense for the plot twists, always leaving enough breadcrumbs for the audience to stay involved, and she does not make some of the turns seem too out of the blue.

Paul Feig as director gives the film good pacing. He has made a number of mediocre comedies, aside from Ghostbusters, also Spy and The Heat, both with Melissa McCarthy. He does better with the comedy in A Simple Favor, which isn’t nearly so broad and over the top in its approach.

A Simple Favor isn’t heavy viewing, and as the screens fill with serious stuff aimed at awards, it offers a nice alternative.

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