A Simple Favor

simple_favor_ver9STARS2.5Director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) has carved out a successful niche in Hollywood.  His female-centric comedies have been both box office successes as well as critically lauded hits.  I consider myself an admirer.  So when A Simple Favor was announced, I welcomed another offering from the filmmaker.  The screenplay by Jessica Sharzer (TV’s American Horror Story) is based on a 2017 novel by Darcey Bell.  I was intrigued by ads that led me to believe that he was undertaking something new. The trailer promised a shift into neo-noir thriller, that A Simple Favor would deviate from Feig’s comedy wheelhouse.  While the production attempts to affect a pseudo-serious edge, this material incongruously relies on laughs, sometimes awkwardly in the very same scene.

I was elated by the cast.  I am a Blake Lively fan. The statuesque actress plays Emily, a mysterious friend of Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) who goes missing.   Lively got her start in features with The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2005). Then made a splash in the CW television series Gossip Girl (2007–2012). Initially subsequent films (Green Lantern, Savages) followed that didn’t make use of her talents.  I must confess she really didn’t impress until her appearance in The Age of Adaline. The willowy blonde epitomized cool stylish class in that production.  Visually, Lively is a chic throwback to Hollywood heroines like Jean Harlow, Kim Novak, Veronica Lake, or Grace Kelly.  She is undeniably well cast here.  With her designer duds and cosmopolitan demeanor, she is the epitome of a gorgeous sophisticate. The movie adopts a refined air.  Although her character subverts that mood with a vulgar temperament.  Her conversations with Stephanie make it clear.  Emily is a lewd and crude woman.

The rest of the cast intrigued me.  Emily’s husband is portrayed by Crazy Rich Asians newcomer Henry Golding.  He plays it rather straight.  The actor treats the screenplay as if he’s in a sincere drama.  Anna Kendrick, on the other hand, seems to be in a different picture altogether.  As a mother, she hosts her own self-produced internet program for fellow moms.  When she addresses her audience of mommies in her video blog, her strident performance makes sense.  Yet she maintains that same shrill demeanor even while sipping martinis with newly found friend Emily.  Her acting is broad and gratingly self-aware.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the part was originally written with frequent Paul Feig collaborator Melissa McCarthy in mind.  McCarthy was brilliant taking on an uncharacteristic role in Spy so I have no doubt she could have pulled off this part with aplomb as well.  She would’ve been a better casting selection given the way Kendrick is directed to behave.  Miss Kendrick’s constant mugging would be more at home in a Miller-Boyett sitcom.  I have nothing against Full House, Perfect Strangers, Family Matters, Step by Step, et al.  Those 90s hits have their place in TV history.  It’s just that the acting style doesn’t suit an elegant mystery.

The choice to mix folly with drama is black comedy and when it works, it can be marvelous.  But taking a serious subject and introducing humor is a difficult balancing act.  It’s been done successfully.  David O. Russell achieved the feat with 2013’s American Hustle to cite one recent example.  There has to be a modicum of respect for your own characters so the audience can be invested in their plight.  Quite simply, these characters lack depth.  All of them.  Even Emily’s young son (Ian Ho) comes across like spoiled brat on a bad sitcom.  I consider the moment when the little tyke surprisingly shouts “F— You!” at Stephanie to be the nadir.  With A Simple Favor, what initially begins like as a captivating mystery slowly devolves into superficial farce. Sometimes in mid-scene. The decision to undercut tension with silliness undermines the story’s more lofty ambitions.  I hesitate to mention Hitchcock because invoking his name in the same breath as a sordid piece of entertainment such as this is akin to blasphemy.  However, that’s clearly the aesthetic to which director Paul Feig was aiming.  Unfortunately, misplaced absurdity and then a convoluted denouement with a few too many twists, completely sinks the plot.  The recent Searching had twists too but at least they were coherent.  Perusing the number of one-star reviews on the social book site Goodreads for Darcey Bell’s 2017 novel leads me to believe the problem lies with the source material.  That’s a shame.  The ultimate mystery of A Simple Favor is why they buried an elegant thriller underneath this goofy mess.

09-13-18

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11 Responses to “A Simple Favor”

  1. smilingldsgirl Says:

    Well I guess comedy is always a very subjective thing. I compared this to Clue in my review. Got that humor and all the fun clues to follow. I enjoyed that but can see why not everyone’s cup of tea.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh for sure! I’ve always said that comedy is the MOST subjective genre. That’s why even though I disliked this film, I will still probably recommend it to certain people. Certainly fans of the book anyway.

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      • smilingldsgirl Says:

        Yeah my friends hated the book and I wonder what I would think because it seems like a pleasant diversion for a few hours but not something I would want to live in for the longer time it takes to read a book. I’d recommend it to people who like mystery shows like Murder She Wrote but can handle the R rated content

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Eric Wilkinson Says:

    😦 seeing tonight – looking forward to it but will take your review under advisement…

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    • Perhaps you’ll love it. I seem to have disliked it more than most. 😆

      Liked by 1 person

      • Eric Wilkinson Says:

        I didn’t exactly “love” it but can’t wait to see again – was never bored – laughed throughout – and enjoyed thoroughly (I also find your criticism of Kendrick’s annoying performance to be more about the character being annoying than Kendrick’s portrayal though I could sorta squint and almost imagine Melissa McCarthy as you did in the role). Lively might deserve award consideration

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      • At some point the difference between the character being annoying and a grating performance is merely an academic discussion. However I will say the problem lies more with Feig’s direction than Kendrick’s abilities. I think she is an extremely talented actress.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I understand your dislike of this movie, but I liked it a little more. I love Blake Lively, but was disappointed by the character she portrayed. I wanted the classy, sassy, not trashy. 3 stars

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  4. Just saw this movie today. I enjoyed it overall. I thought it was very thrilling and I thought the contrast between Kendrick and Lively as characters was amazing. Wasn’t a fan of the ending though. The film got too heavy-handed after a while and the ending was just too much. I enjoyed it for its comedy but even that was a change of tone from the rest of the film. Also…..I need to start listening to 1960s French pop music.

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