A Simple Favor suggests a departure from the kind of film director Paul Feig typically makes. Feig is responsible for all the good Melissa McCarthy movies from the last few years. He didn’t make Tammy. The trailers sell it as “from the darker side of Paul Feig,” but don’t let that fool you. While bits are grim, A Simple Favor is a total blast. It’s a sharp, ice-cold, hilarious black comedy about female friendship that goes down as smoothly as a gin martini with a twist.
Widowed “mommy vlogger” Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) strikes up an unlikely friendship with elusive working mom Emily (Blake Lively). Stephanie is perky, sweet, organized, and a little grating. Emily is the absolute opposite – she’s the sharp around the edges, effortlessly glamorous, unpredictable one that the other parents at the school whisper about in hushed tones. One day, Emily asks Stephanie to pick up her son from school and watch him while she’s at work, and she doesn’t come back. It soon becomes apparent Emily has gone missing. Stephanie takes it upon herself to put the pieces of Emily’s enigmatic personality together, to get to the bottom of her relationship with her husband Sean (Crazy Rich Asians breakout Henry Golding) and find out what happened to Emily.
This movie is an absolute delight. One thing I absolutely love about this movie is that you never know who to trust. Stephanie is kind of an unreliable narrator, she’s got a squeaky clean exterior that suggests something darker, and Emily has all kinds of secrets. The fact that you don’t know who’s telling the truth about what is what makes this movie so unpredictable and fun. It’s also extremely smart and self-aware. It’s an adaptation of a poorly received novel by Darcey Bell, which has been compared unfavorably to Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. It becomes clear that Feig and co. know how to turn the trashy airport novel into something that’s an absolute hoot to watch. Feig’s script, co-written with Jessica Henderson, embraces every ridiculous twist and is really winking and knowing in its over-the-top nature.
Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively are electric. Both of these characters are fleshed out in a way that could have easily been overlooked by a lesser filmmaker. Kendrick’s fidgety energy and sharp comedic timing are perfect for this character, and it’s hard to picture this film working as well with someone else in the lead. And I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen Blake Lively this good, or the last time I’ve seen her have this much fun in a role. She really reminds you what an underrated actress she is here, and you never know what she’s going to say or do next. Her character’s vociferous, unpredictable personality pairs well with Lively, and her jaunty way with an insult.
In the end, it’s surprising how well Feig makes this whole thing work. Feig pairs absurdist hilarity with shrewd seriousness in a way that few filmmakers can do to this effect, and oh, it looks pretty. The sets and costumes are incredible and there’s a consistent parade of vintage French pop songs that add to the mood in an effective way. Feig is a director that consistently has fun with genre, and genre expectations. Spy is his take on the action-spy movie, and The Heat does the same thing for the buddy-cop movie. This is his take on a neo-noir psychological thriller and the story is taken seriously to a degree but is the most fun when it goes completely off the rails. Thematically, the film sits comfortably between bizarre psychothriller, biting suburban satire, and an earnest story about the complexities of female friendship. It’s one of 2018’s best surprises.