Adapted from the 2017 novel by Darcey Bell, A Simple Favor is a dark-comedy thriller that follows video blogger Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) as she recounts and uncovers the mystery surrounding the disappearance of her new best friend, Emily (Blake Lively). For Stephanie and Sean (Emily’s husband, played by Henry Golding), that mystery is Emily Nelson – the enigmatic yet boisterous and charming personality that has captivated both of their hearts. But when Emily suddenly goes missing without a trace one day, the two realize that they barely know the one person they thought was closest to them.
Stephanie Smothers is a mommy vlogger who takes joy out of pleasing others. Anna Kendrick is outstanding, giving one of her best performances to date as the quirky and dedicated supermom. She meets the bold and elegant Emily Nelson when their sons beg for a play date after school. What starts out as an unlikely yet heartwarming friendship turns into a web of secrets, lies, betrayals, and scandal as Emily disappears and Stephanie is left dealing with the aftermath. Blake Lively truly shines as she embodies the psychopathic nature of her character; and her portrayal is one of many standouts of the film. More importantly, the duo share great chemistry on screen with genius comedic timing that will certainly have the audience entertained from beginning to end.
Paul Feig’s A Simple Favor serves great themes such as burying dark secrets, moral conundrums, and honesty & trust. These themes are distributed among the characterizations and actions of the two female leads, and they are appropriately displayed throughout the story. What works extremely well in the film is that their personalities and motivations are revealed at a gradual enough pace that it maintains the intensity and intriguing nature of the story/script. However, it never becomes boring, and by the film’s end, the outcome feels thrilling, justified, and rewarding.
Stylistically, Feig’s direction in this adaptation doesn’t offer any novel aspects to the black comedy genre. However, the film’s strength lies in its distinct storytelling which is similar to Fincher’s Gone Girl. It’s not a wild comparison to make as the trailers briefly showcased the mysterious disappearance of a young woman who seemed to have it all. Additionally, it becomes evident that there will be secrets unmasked throughout the film. But A Simple Favor capitalizes on that type of storytelling with plots twists, shocking revelations and details that reveal so much about these characters mentally and morally, which is where the film truly shines.
At times, A Simple Favor gets a little too informational in which the audience might feel that the amount of detail provided becomes superfluous, but it doesn’t necessarily harm the film. Rather, it just makes those parts of the film forgettable with the additional twists not being able to land as well. Without giving too much away, there is also a huge secret that is revealed for one of the characters, but for the magnitude of its content, it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Instead, it takes a backseat to the more audience-friendly humor approach which cheapens the severity and seriousness of the subject matter. It’s unfortunate because the inclusion of this particular secret adds another layer of scandal to the story and would’ve enhanced the film even more from a characterization standpoint.
But despite that lacking detail, A Simple Favor is a fun and fashionable thriller accompanied by killer performances from Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively. Though it oversells its mystery with plentiful detail, the story is a gratifying yet harsh reflection on female friendship, trust, secrets, and lies. And ultimately, this black comedy is at its best when it concentrates less on its tricks and more on the psyche of its complicated characters.