I genuinely think it’s impossible to hate Blake Lively or Anna Kendrick. Thanks to their sensational personalities and fun social media accounts, the pair are the kind of women that you really want to be friends with. The effortlessly cool and funny people who you wish you were more like. Or, at least, I do. So, when I first saw the trailer for A Simple Favor I was intrigued. The two together seemed like a winning combination and director, Paul Feig, has the ability to come out with some fabulous stuff. He’s surprised me in the past with his films. I was absolutely sure that I would hate Bridesmaids, The Heat, and Spy but each time I ended up filled with joy. He quickly became one of my favourite film makers which is why I was able to forgive him the dodgy Ghostbusters reboot. Do I have a long list to send him about things he should have done differently? Yes. But did I still enjoy it? Yes. So, this trio seemed like the kind of thing I would definitely love even if it did seem to be going a bit too far down the Gone Girl or Girl on a Train route. Surely if anyone could make me love a femme fatale focused psychological thriller then it would be Paul Feig, right?
I have to be honest, my initial hope that I would love this film already dashed from the opening scene when Anna Kendrick’s character, Stephanie, was revealed to be a mummy vlogger. It just screams of someone desperately trying to cling to relevancy. Ticking boxes. But that kind of calmed down once my eyes had finished rolling quite so dramatically and I got back into the story. When Stephanie’s son becomes friends with another boy in his class, she quickly becomes friends with his high-powered and glamorous mother, Emily (Blake Lively). Emily is, obviously, the polar opposite to Stephanie. She has the house, the job, the sexy writer husband, and the confidence to get what she wants… and Stephanie quickly falls under her spell.
The two become unlikely best friends and Emily even manages to get her buttoned-up friend to start unwinding with the aid of a strong martini and some secret sharing. Until one day when Emily asks Stephanie to pick up her son from school and never returns. Emily, using her Youtube channel as a resource, starts investigating her friend’s disappearance whilst trying to support her husband, Sean (Henry Golding). When Stephanie starts investigating the past, she starts to find out some illuminating things about her new friend that bring to light all sorts of dark plots.
Although, really, there isn’t an awful lot that is very dark about A Simple Favour. Paul Fieg’s psychological thriller references are all quite clear but he never manages to get the tone quite right for the story. Of course, it doesn’t help that the narrative, adapted from the Darcey Bell novel of the same name, is full of obvious twists and toe-curling clichés. In the end, there is a much greater promise of a dark edge than can be mustered up. Despite the phenomenal effort that both leads put in to try to make it happen. It just ends up underwhelming. Feig doesn’t give us any real punches and is far too soft with everything. The final plot twists are so obviously signposted that we don’t really need to the lengthy investigation sequences and the final reveal just feels redundant.
But that’s not to say there isn’t anything to like about this film. Both Kendrick and Lively are talented and charming performers. It just doesn’t feel like either is in the perfect role for them. Kendrick, in particularly, seems more lost than normal in her mumsy role. She doesn’t get the chance to fire off the snarky jokes she’s become so well-loved for and, at the same time, doesn’t convince when Stephanie supposedly goes dark after Emily’s disappearance. Lively has much more fun playing the vampy PR ball-buster but, again, there isn’t really much to play with. None of the characters feels particularly well-drawn out and the pairs friendship is so rushed that we don’t really get a sense of why there is so much concern. Feig is normally pretty great at mapping out his characters but, here, he favours the story, which is a huge mistake.
There’s just not enough there to work with. The plot is flimsy and the twists are just not exciting enough. It is neither funny enough for Paul Feig to work his comedy magic or dark enough to really get the blood pumping. There are a few standout moments that really show the potential but they are so few and far between that you find it hard to care about the overall result. It says something about a film that one of the most interesting things to say about it is the fact that Blake Lively’s character religiously drinks her real-life husband’s brand of gin.