Paul Feig’s twisty mystery adaptation is one best forgotten
The ink had barely dried on Darcey Bell’s paper before 20th Century Fox swooped in to buy the rights to a novel that didn’t hit retail shelves until just over a year later. A further 12 months on from A Simple Favour’s book release and the cinematic version is now getting ready to hit cinemas. Its female-centric story feels like a good fit for a director like Paul Feig, although this Gone Girl-lite thriller is not in his usual broad comedy comfort zone.
While Gillian Flynn’s story is an easier modern day reference, the story draws heavily on classic thrillers such as Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (which is even name checked by Anna Kendrick’s character) and Otto Preminger’s Laura. The likelihood of Feig’s low-rent film ever being spoken of with the same sort of affection as these films is pretty unlikely. It would be nice to assume that everyone involved is aware of that too, but there never comes a point where you think the cast realises quite how bad this really is.
Starring alongside Kendrick is Blake Lively who spends most of the film dressed to the nines in outfits completed by bow ties, French cuffs and a cane. It’s a classic style she carries off well enough, but you can’t help but wonder if anyone thought to check in on what costume designer Renee Ehrlich Kalfus was up to. It’s as confusing as the opening titles that stylishly recreate a cool 60s aesthetic, and apart from a light sprinkling of retro French pop songs, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the film.
Stephanie (Kendrick) and Emily (Lively) are the unlikeliest of friends as their personalities appear to be at opposite ends of the scale. Stephanie is a slightly overenthusiastic widowed single mum eager to put her name down for any sort of extracurricular school activity. When she isn’t fussing over her son she vlogs about baking home made cookies to a handful of gossipy followers.
On the other hand Emily is a cool, sexy mother with a high-powered job, a stunning home and a handsome author husband in Sean (Henry Golding). Their kids inadvertently bring them together when they demand a play date at Emily’s home. Unexpectedly they strike up a bond to become friends and the play dates give them the opportunity to knock back a few Martinis and share sordid secrets.
Before the film falls horribly off a cliff in the last hour or so, the moments spent with the two women in Emily’s home is mostly good fun. Stephanie is a lonely soul who looks up to her friend’s devil may care attitude and cool persona. Feig is in his element here in a lighter atmosphere led by Kendrick’s comic timing and nervous energy. It all changes when Stephanie is asked to do ‘a simple favour’ by Emily and look after her kid for a few hours. The problem being that Emily never returns home and with the worst assumed, Stephanie starts to dig around in her friend’s life only to come out with some unexpected answers.
Once Feig moves from light comedy territory into trashy thriller mode it quickly falls flat. The many plot holes and ridiculous turn of events could be forgiven if the characters were of any interest, or if there was a modicum of suspense to the story. There is a moment not long after Emily’s disappearance where Feig could’ve taken Stephanie and the entire film down a darker and more psychologically intriguing road, but he plays it safe so it remains bland and uninvolving.
Even as the twists and turns start to pile up, Feig continues to throw in comedic beats that feel at odds with plot developments. Kendrick loses the fizz she has when sharing the screen with Lively, and Henry Golding seems to deliver every line in the same dreary tone without ever changing his expression. The one remaining ray of light is Bashir Salahuddin as Detective Summervile who may be the only one self-aware enough to see the bigger picture. Rupert Friend also makes a brief, film-stealing appearance as Emily’s obnoxious, fashion-victim boss. Those brief highlights aside, if there’s a simple favour you could do for yourself this weekend it would be to give this a miss.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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