At first, two words kept me from getting excited about A Simple Favor, prior to it’s release: mommy. blogger. Or maybe it’s technically “vlogger” as Anna Kendrick’s character, Stephanie, runs a youtube site where she videos herself doing all sorts of domestic things – making cupcakes, crafting crafts – to share with other moms. Now see, that’s my hang up. That kind of homey, suburban shtick has just never been my thing. Add in a peppy host imploring viewers “to press subscribe for the latest updates on Jeffrey’s cold and healthy meal prep tips” and I’m basically in hell. Fortunately, that reaction, a rejection of the stereotypes so often used to define and limit what a woman can be – perfect mom, lady boss bitch, ‘cool girl’ wife – is exactly what A Simple Favor is all about.
After my initial skepticism, two words got me excited again about seeing A Simple Favor once I heard they were connected with the film: Paul Feig. Feig is the talented director and professional dapper gentleman behind female-led movies such as Bridesmaids and Ghostbusters (2016). He wrote and directed Spy, a criminally underappreciated comedy, and one of the few Melissa McCarthy vehicles worthy of her singular talent. These are movies that not only center themselves around their female characters, but afford those characters the respect to present them as fully formed people with strengths, weaknesses and all the middling qualities in between. I remember seeing Bridesmaids in the theater in 2011 with my best friend and just being overjoyed, astounded at Kristen Wiig’s Annie and Maya Rudolph’s Lillian; how prickly and goofy they were, what imperfect humans and yet perfect friends – kinda just like me and my bestie. In the movie, they make bad decisions, get to recover from them, then grow up in some ways but not in others, almost as if female characters in a comedy could be more than dehumanized props or sexual objects – a revelation!
But don’t let all this talk about representation and feminism get you down (like those poor little Ghostbuster fanboys who had their childhoods ruined – ha!) or thinking that Feig has to get serious to make a point. In his films women are funny and the audience has fun, as if you needed this scene from Bridesmaids (really any scene from Bridesmaids would work) to remind you
And A Simple Favor is no different in that regard – every minute is a hoot. Feig’s assembled a team of actors who embrace the capital D drama of this Peyton Place meets The Great Gatsby neo-noir thriller. In addition to Kendrick, whose comic timing is like a Swiss watch of snark, there’s Blake Lively playing her newly acquired and very glam best friend, Emily. Lively owns every scene, every room she walks into – a savagely confident business woman who never hesitates to ignore her kid, belittle her husband or tell off her boss. And she does it all while dressed like a very fancy maitre d /cabaret hostess on the upper decks of the Titanic (apparently inspired by Feig, who I already mentioned is pretty stylish).
For the first 30 minutes of the film, Emily seems untouchable, tossing off lines like “I guess prudes are people too” and just generally intimidating the straight-laced Stephanie with her nonchalant attitude toward suburban values. Stephanie is the overzealous mom who makes Pinterest-perfect cupcakes for every school event. Emily needs several martinis to get through a playdate and has a painting of herself, nude, from a very….specific….angle hanging on her wall. They’re an odd couple, but one who become tightly bonded once the secrets start spilling. Those secrets are like little explosions pushing the plot forward, and they only get bigger and wilder as the movie moves with glee into soap opera territory. Surprise! Neither mysterious Emily, nor immaculate Stephanie are the people they’re pretending to be (Emily’s husband, Sean, the stupidly handsome Henry Golding, is hiding things too). So if you grew up watching General Hospital with your mom every summer (just me?) and learned to love reveals about characters’ pasts that only get more and more ridiculous, you will love A Simple Favor. Feig has managed to wrap a catty domestic drama inside a thriller with some truly scary moments inside a comedy where we get to see Anna Kendrick rap. This film is a genre mash-up feat.
As the plot get wackier and the mystery surrounding Emily’s real identity and whereabouts deepens, what keeps you along for the ride are the characters (and fantastic performances) at its core. Stephanie goes from being a perfectly supportive friend, to a pretty bad one, but learns to stand up for herself in the process. And as we learn about her dark past, cracks of vulnerability start to show through Emily’s steely facade, though nothing a pin stripe suit and strong drink won’t fix. All those complexities and layers make for characters we can laugh at, identify with, love and then hate from scene to scene, and oh yeah, they just happen to be women too. And that makes for a September surprise I didn’t see coming – a great new movie to add to Feig’s already impressive catalogue.