A Simple Favor (2018)
A Simple Favor (2018)

Genre: Crime Drama and Mystery Running Time: 1 hr. 57 min.

Release Date: September 14th, 2018 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Paul Feig Actors: Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding, Ian Ho, Joshua Satine, Kelly McCormack, Aparna Nacherla, Gia Sandhu, Zach Smadu, Andrew Moodie, Linda Cardellini

 


 

O

n Stephanie Smothers’ (Anna Kendrick) vlog, she admits that her best friend Emily Nelson (Blake Lively) has been missing for five days. She’s terribly concerned, but the Connecticut police have yet to provide any updates on the investigation. Beginning just a few weeks prior, Stephanie chronicles her acquaintance with Emily, the director of public relations at a ritzy design firm, whose son Nicky (Ian Ho) wants a playdate with Stephanie’s first-grade boy, Miles (Joshua Satine), after class. Although the wealthy, mysterious, overly fashionable Emily claims that she’s scheduled to endure a symphony of antidepressants, the foursome head back to the Nelson mansion, where the children scurry about and the adults start downing alcoholic drinks against the background of a bright, sunny day, glaring through enormous glass windows.

“You should move in.” Stephanie is nerdy, goofy, chatty, and unsure of herself, continually apologizing and nervously acquiescing to every request. Emily, on the other hand, is always confident, poised, and intermittently severe, inhabiting a world that is far from fitting for her little boy. She drinks constantly and seemingly has no respect for anyone, though she skillfully tolerates her husband, Sean (Henry Golding). “Oh, you do not want to be friends with me. Trust me.”

Right from the start, things appear off; these two women are so starkly different that there’s clearly nefarious reasons for Emily to befriend Stephanie. Plotting and manipulation are afoot; ulterior motives abound, even when their friendship occasionally resembles one of playful normalcy. Other parents from the school believe Stephanie has been swindled into babysitting for free, but she brushes it off as mere mutual dependability. And then, after Emily vanishes, and the days start ticking away, a mystery brews. But Emily’s behavior is so obviously erratic and aberrant that it’s not immediately surprising; there’s no suspense surrounding the disappearance. “I don’t mean to freak you out.”

The film handles Emily’s sudden decampment with little tension as well, essentially deflating any shot at standard murder/mystery thrills. Stephanie’s steady infiltration of the Nelson home and her shift in attitude and sleuthing aptitude – as if to complete a full assimilation of the missing woman (certainly filling the hole of neglectful parenting) – is amusing (though perhaps predictable and far from believable), yet flashbacks and vlog entries feel sloppy. As the case plays out, partly via the internet, the minor clues and even the larger revelations only confirm a sense of misdirection, not relief from the solving of escalating unknowns. As much as the film wants to be unguessable – or, at the very least, not conforming to a straightforward formula – few scenes possess any genuine shocks.

“It’s just stages of grief.” Bearing some similarities to “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “Body Heat,” “Malice,” “Diabolique,” and even “What Lies Beneath,” the plot continues to thicken, adding complication after complication to turn the scenario into one of paranoia, deception, and intrigue – as well as uncommon humorousness and an odd amount of luminous daylight shots. But the majority of the picture struggles to create a truly unique identity; it’s derivative of enough other properties to keep it interesting, but originality eludes it at every turn. Plus, the overwrought complexities stretch the running time out far too long, while the finale devolves into absolute nonsense.

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10