Paul Feig (director)
1h 57mins (length)
20 September 2018 (released)
22 September 2018
Ever since the world caught wind of Paul Feig’s big screen adaption of Darcey Bell’s novel A Simple Favor, it’s been one of the most hotly anticipated movies of the autumn.
Its two stars, Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick, launched an impressive social media campaign ahead of its release, with Lively wiping her Instagram account days before the first trailer dropped and Kendrick engaging in a playful mock feud with her co-star’s husband Ryan Reynolds which fans followed with joyful glee.
The online hype was warranted – the pair form the backbone of what is essentially a fantastic 'opposites attract' storyline, stylishly entwined with a slick mix of twists, betrayals, secrets, murder and revenge.
Kendrick plays Stephanie Smothers, the picture-taking, crafts-loving mummy vlogger who perfectly encapsulates the over-eager school gates mother we all love to hate. She’s wholesome, overbearing and sickly sweet, which is why her antithesis, fashion PR director Emily Nelson (Lively), is quite so enthralling.
Where Stephanie bakes cakes and gushes over kitchen hacks with her online population of followers, Emily lives with a true sense of reckless abandonment. She wears sharp-cut, tailored suits with pocket squares and faux collars, nonchalantly drinks straight liquor at three o’clock in the afternoon like it’s going out of fashion, and oozes sexual appeal with her struggling writer husband Sean Townsend-Nelson (Henry Golding), all the while being mother to five-year-old son Miles, who she seemingly displays little to no maternal instincts towards.
It is, in fact, the children who bring the unlikely pair together, after Miles befriends Stephanie’s son Nicky at preschool and the pair demand a playdate. As they play, Emily and Stephanie bond over rounds of martinis; their alcohol-fuelled meet-ups in a sleepy Connecticut suburb soon providing the backdrop for an unexpected yet endearing new friendship.
But then it all goes wrong.
As quickly as the duo’s strangely captivating relationship is introduced to us, it is taken away when Emily mysteriously goes missing after asking Stephanie to do her the simple favour of picking Miles up from school.
Naturally, it prompts a desperate search effort from Stephanie and Sean, who embark on a wild goose chase unearthing the secrets of Emily’s past in a bid to locate her.
What ensues should form an exciting extension of the film’s first half, so excellently drenched in mystery and intrigue the viewer is genuinely unsure which direction the plot might take.
In reality, Kendrick and Golding are laden with a number of confusing, and often implausible, storylines that begin to muddy what was otherwise such a promising start and the remaining 60 minutes quickly unravels into disarray.
The film jerks swiftly between its various twists and turns and, by the end, the who-is-duping-whom theme becomes so convoluted you’re frankly not sure what on earth is going on.
The movie is undoubtedly kept afloat, however, by Lively and Kendrick's electric onscreen chemistry, with the pair evidently relishing playing their respective sweet and sour parts. Lively sizzles in the role of dark and brooding Emily, while Kendrick excels at the innocent, oh-so-sweet widow, her pitch-perfect one-liners and seemingly unfaltering innocence provoking genuine belly laughs.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Golding, who, after a sparkling performance in romcom-of-the-year Crazy Rich Asians, appears stiff and unbelievable in this romantic thriller.
A Simple Favor is certainly worth the watch – its stylish aesthetics, dark comedy and leading ladies' rousing performances ensure it’s definitely not a wasted cinema trip – but prepare for whiplash: this blockbuster has just one plot twist too many.