A Simple Favor is deliciously sinful with a cast that’s to die for


Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick thrill in this soapy, candy-coated mystery-thriller that will leave you saying “Gone Girl, who?”

Director Paul Feig has tackled the spy world, buddy cop movies, and even the Ghostbusters universe, but nothing has prepared you for the world of A Simple Favor. What’s selling itself as Feig’s take on Gone Girl is something much deeper and complex, at times funnier and at others more chilling. With an utterly spellbinding lead performance by Blake Lively, aided by Anna Kendrick, this Simple Favor review is gonna be light, if only to force you to dive into the film as blind as you can be.

Stephanie Smothers (Kendrick) is a lonely mommy vlogger whose idea of fun is signing up for everything at her son’s school. A random playdate puts her into the orbit of Emily Nelson (Lively), a glamorous PR rep for a fashion company who, despite floundering in debt, is seemingly happy. The two quickly become friends, with Emily’s companionship forcing Stephanie out of her shell. But when Emily goes missing, Stephanie discovers her new bestie isn’t what she appears.

Feig enjoys telling stories about women rising up in male-dominated industries, with his films and their own send-up of male-dominated genres being reflective of that. A Simple Favor is a different animal. Written with an acid-tongued wit by Jessica Sharzer, adapting Darcey Bell’s novel, the film looks at how women become best friends, worst enemies, and best friends by being worst enemies.

The relationship between Stephanie and Emily is unique, with Emily pulling Stephanie away from her world of domesticity and motherhood. She makes Stephanie think about her sex life and her own need for independence outside of being a mother. Yet as the plot unfolds, there’s a sense of exploitation; Stephanie starts to wonder if she’s a patsy in a game she doesn’t know she’s playing, yet there’s still a desire for that friendship.

Divided into two parts: the friendship and the mystery, each storyline dovetails nicely within the other. Stephanie’s immersion in Emily’s past starts to unfold in a way not unlike a Gothic melodrama, complete with a burned-out ancestral home. When things get over-the-top, Feig and Sharzer embrace it. In fact, they often call out references to classic films, either directly or through fashion choices, as a nod to the overwrought plotlines those films embraced.

On the surface, the script is in a similar vein as Gone Girl, though told from a far more sympathetic presence. Anna Kendrick brings all the vulnerability and sweetness necessary to play Stephanie, but the character isn’t a weeping flower. She’s made mistakes, not necessarily ones she seems to regret, but ones that have affected her life. Like most mothers, or just women out of high school, the struggle to make and maintain friends is hard, and Kendrick’s expressive eyes and coy smile convey that.

But the deeper Stephanie becomes enmeshed in solving the mystery of Emily’s disappearance, Kendrick shows the sly transition of imbuing Emily’s personality with her own. A trip to Emily’s workplace, and a hilarious interaction with Emily’s boss (played by a heavily made-up Rupert Friend) show’s Kendrick’s range with the character. She’s tough, creative, manipulative; she just needs the outlet.

Crazy Rich Asians star Henry Golding plays Emily’s husband, Sean, but spends much of his time opposite Kendrick. Showing a far different side than his previous role, he works well opposite both women, for once playing the husband who doesn’t require a fully-fleshed out character.

But all the other actors are simply steamrolled by Blake Lively as Emily. From the minute she steps out of her car in a pinstriped suit, she is a sophisticated powerhouse. Described as a “beautiful ghost” by her husband, Lively plays Emily as a woman used to fighting for everything, yet so sick of having to be smarter than everyone. She tells it like it is, even if that means shattering the idea of a mother as a warm, loving personage who sits at home waiting for her children. Sharzer’s creation of the character gives us a woman who’s complicated in her antagonism, but it’s nothing without Lively’s witty, take-no-prisoners performance.

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There are some plotlines that end up sticking with you by the end, but the entire world Feig creates is so “high tone” and glossily deceitful that you’ll cast those issues aside. A Simple Favor is a grim, wickedly fun time at the movies that’s sure to give you a whole new impression on Blake Lively in particular, and women in general. Raise your martinis for A Simple Favor.