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Paul Feig’s A Simple Favor is inspired – from its Saul Bass-like question mark poster (above) to its double and triplecrosses – by the breezy sophisticated mystery-thrillers of the ‘60s and early ‘70s.
Mommy vlogger Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick, the Pitch Perfect series) meets rich, mean-girl mom Emily Nelson (Blake Lively, Gossip Girl, The Age of Adeline) when her son, Miles (Joshua Satine, Godless) and Emily’s son, Nicky (Ian Ho insist they want to have a playdate.
While the kids play elsewhere in the magnificent Nelson house, Stephanie and Emily drink martinis and bond. Before long, Steph and Emily share secrets – the awkward Steph and the elegant Emily are on the road to friendship.
After meeting Emily’s husband, Sean Townsend (Henry Golding, Crazy rich Asians), Steph finds herself even more envious of Emily though everything about Emily’s life feels like an elegant gown that Steph feels she couldn’t possibly pull off.
Following several playdates and martinis, and Steph picking up Nicky for Emily a few times, Emily calls and asks for a simple favor – could Steph pick up Nicky again, please? Then she disappears.
What follows is a sneaky smart tale of intellectual and emotional bobbing and weaving.
Sean calls the police and Steph decides to try to find Emily herself.
Of course, when a spouse goes missing, the usual suspect is the husband – but Sean was in England, visiting his mother who had broken a hip.
On the plus side, Steph, awkwardly, yet efficiently goes about her investigation – getting helpful tips form followers of her vlog (which explodes following Emily’s disappearance).
Detective Summervile (Bashir Salahuddin, GLOW), who follows up Sean’s call, is a jovial guy whose cheerful demeanor covers a shrewd intelligence. His appearance rattles both Sean and Steph…
Adapted from the Darcey Bell novel by Jessica Sharzer (Nerve, American Horror Story), A Simple Favor’s script is filled with smart characters and situations.
Feig deftly moves us through the bubbly first act and into more dangerous territory; Steph’s move into Nancy Drew/Veronica Mars-mode is smooth and believable – even though she’s as awkward as a detective as she is in most social situations.
A Simple Favor also benefits from some canny casting for key minor roles – Andrew Rannells’ (The Knick, Girls) Darren and Kelly McCormack’s (Killjoys) Stacy offer some withering commentary and Rupert Friend delights as Emily’s bitchy boss, Dennis Nylon.
Little details have huge payoff – like Emily’s not wanting to be photographed (Steph takes a photo of her and Emily makes her delete it!).
Lively kills as Emily – a seeming force of nature who drinks correctly made martinis and swears volubly (even in front of the children), while Kendrick has never been more adorkable – even with Steph’s darker side.
Golding is just as good as the not incredibly intelligent Sean – he’s a bit of a sap who may have married precisely the wrong girl.
A Simple Favor is a hugely entertaining movie that doesn’t want to Say Stuff or revolutionize thrillers. It just to play and entertain. It does both very well.
Final Grade: A-