In the current era of endless amounts of superhero movies and remakes, a stand-alone film with an original concept can be quite refreshing, especially when done well.
Blake Lively stars in “A Simple Favor” as Emily, a mysterious New York public relations savant who likes her martinis strong and her words blunt. Opposite Lively is Anna Kendrick, who plays Stephanie, a stay-at-home helicopter mom with a cheesy mommy vlog.
Based on the novel by Darcey Bell, “A Simple Favor” follows the two women as they strike up an unlikely friendship that quickly progresses to a self-proclaimed “best friends” relationship, despite only having known each other for a few weeks. Emily requests “a simple favor” of Stephanie — to pick up her son from school.
This is the last Stephanie hears from Emily before Emily goes missing.
Stephanie tries her best to pick up the pieces of Emily’s disappearance. She helps Emily’s husband Sean with housework and parenting and even does some of her own investigative work on the case.
Her new role as caretaker leads to questionable shifts in the relationship dynamic between her and Sean, and her role as a self-determined detective uncovers information about Emily’s past, unknown by all of those closest to her. Stephanie also realizes Emily’s disappearance is even more befuddling than anyone thought.
So, what happened to Emily? In the interest of avoiding major spoilers — some follow, but without context — all that needs to be said is that the plot never ceases to amaze with perpetual twists and turns. These are borderline excessive, but never quite cross the line.
The unnecessarily off-putting backstory for Kendrick’s character, entirely unrealistic scenarios of grief and infidelity and the classic telenovela twist involving a convenient existence of a long-lost twin somehow don’t hinder the movie’s ability to be great. The excitement prevents over-analysis of the details.
The characters are complex, with no obvious right choice on how to feel about them. Emily’s charisma is impossible to ignore, even with actions that glaringly demonstrate a lack of character. . Kendrick’s Stephanie undergoes a transition reminiscent of Walter White in “Breaking Bad” from mommy vlogger to shady, morally-ambiguous vigilante. This depth contributes to the movie’s overall success.
Kendrick gives an inspired performance as Stephanie, demonstrating her range in character development, and Henry Golding continues his A-list trajectory as Emily’s husband, Sean, after making his big-screen debut in the film “Crazy Rich Asians.”
However, Lively is the one who steals the show with her captivating performance as the enigmatic Emily. She effortlessly showcases the character’s glamour, mystery and manipulative detachedness in a role that has potential Oscar buzz.
Director Paul Feig impresses with this dive into the genres of drama thriller. His previous directing credits fall exclusively in the genre of comedy: “Bridesmaids,” “The Heat,” “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation.”
Overall, “A Simple Favor” is a guilty pleasure that does not require much guilt. The deliciously complex plot, star-studded cast and solid performances make the movie worthy of a trip to the theater instead of a night of Netflix. If nothing else, go for Lively’s costumes — they’re the style inspiration everyone needs.