Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Movie Review: A Simple Favor

A Simple Favor **** / *****
Directed by: Paul Feig.
Written by: Jessica Sharzer based upon the novel by Darcey Bell.
Starring: Anna Kendrick (Stephanie), Blake Lively (Emily), Henry Golding (Sean), Andrew Rannells (Darren), Linda Cardellini (Diana Hyland), Rupert Friend (Dennis Nylon), Jean Smart (Margaret McLanden), Ian Ho (Nicky), Joshua Satine (Miles Smothers), Bashir Salahuddin (Detective Summerville), Eric Johnson (Davis), Glenda Braganza (Kerry Glenda), Kelly McCormack (Stacy), Aparna Nacherla (Sona).
A Simple Favor is, quite simply, a riot. This is one of the most purely enjoyable films of the year with pitch perfect performances, a story that takes increasingly insane twists and turns as it moves along, and quite simply knows precisely what it wants to be, and is as good of a version of that as possible. Directed by Paul Feig, who is known for his female centric comedies (Bridesmaids, The Heat, Ghostbusters, Spy) he has made a comic version of Gone Girl here, which still operates as a thriller, but also a comedy, and also house/clothing porn. It embraces every clich̩, every contrivance with reckless abandon Рand has two great performances at its core, with a smart ensemble cast all around them. If all you want to do is have a blast at the movies, you could do a lot worse than A Simple Favor.
The film stars Anna Kendrick as Stephanie, a “mommy vlogger” – a widow living in an upscale Connecticut neighborhood, raising her five-year-old son Miles alone since an accident that killed not only her husband, but also her beloved brother. Stephanie doesn’t have a lot of friends among the other parents in the school – she is that kind of annoying, overly perfect mother who volunteers for everything, and is seemingly perfect. From the start though, you sense something is not quite right with her – something is just, well, off, about her. When she meets Emily (Blake Lively) she is instantly intimidated – Emily is brash and confident, sexy and refined. She works in PR for a fashion designer in the city, has seemingly the perfect house, and the perfect husband, Sean (Henry Golding) and a kid in Miles’ class. The kids are friends, so the moms end up friends as well – in part, because both of them are outside the normal “mom” clique in the room. There is an undercurrent of homoeroticism running between them as well. Things seem to be going fine, until one day when Emily asks Stephanie to pick up her son from school – and then just vanishes. As the hours turn to days, no one has seen her – and they start to get more and more worried. And Stephanie and Sean start to grow closer and closer to each other. But then strange things start to happen, and Stephanie decides to do some digging.
The film is based on a book by Darcey Bell, which is a good enough read, but plays it far straighter than the film does, and while it has many twists and turns as the film does – and ones that are equally as loony – they aren’t nearly as satisfying as what screenwriter Jessica Sharzer comes up with for the movie. The tone the movie strikes as lighter – more campy – and it doesn’t take itself as seriously as the novel does. As such, the movie is better able to handle the ridiculousness of the plot – in fact, it almost demands a plot this strange.
The two main performances in the movie are great. Lively has never been as good as she is here – she walks into the movie, and pretty much takes over. There is a sexy confidence to her here that I have never seen in one of her performances before. Her character is the reason the film gets compared to Gone Girl – but she’s kind of like that character if she told you right from the start she was going to fuck you over, and still managed to win your devotion. What Kendrick does, in what is the lead role (she’s hardly never not onscreen) is in its own way even trickier than Lively. Outwardly, this is the adorably awkward shtick Kendrick has perfected over the years (her rapping in the car is a delight), but the role is stranger than that. There is some real darkness here, some real bone deep strangeness that Kendrick pulls off effortlessly. The supporting cast is good as well – Golding is in good form as the clueless nitwit of a bad husband and Bashir Salahuddin is having a blast as the cop investigating the disappearance. Even the small roles are well cast – especially Linda Cardinelli in a one scene wonder of a performance, as an artist who paints knives.
The fall movie season is usually about serious movies – Oscar movies, as if audiences have decided they don’t want fun anymore because it’s not summer. Here is a movie that will likely be better than many of the more serious movies this fall, and is certainly a hell of a lot more fun than many of the summer movies. It was an unexpected delight.

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