A Simple Favour
4 stars
Director: Paul Feig
Stars: Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding
Duration: 127 mins
Class: 15
KRS Releasing Ltd

A Simple Favour’s poster states that this film is from “the darker side of Paul Feig, director of Bridesmaids”.  Feig is to be lauded for creating some well-written, complex, poignant and, above all, funny roles for many of Hollywood’s female comedians: to wit, the afore-mentioned Bridesmaids, The Heat, Spy and the much-maligned (undeservedly) female reboot of Ghostbusters.

A Simple Favour does indeed have a dark side. This modern comedy-noir takes on disappearances, murder, betrayal and myriad twists and turns. At the heart of the tale are two very dissimilar women who become friends.

Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick) is an endearing, sunny-natured sparkling vloggerv, who happily wears novelty socks. She has built up a new life for herself and her son Miles after a tragic incident left her a single parent. She imparts solid advice to her many online mummy followers and lives in typical American suburban bliss together with Miles.

Emily (Blake Lively) is smart, sexy, and successful and certainly knows how to rock a power suit. She holds down a demanding job and lives in an amazing house with her author husband Sean (Henry Golding) and their young son Nicky.

Stephanie and Emily’s sons are schoolfriends, and the two women soon strike up a solid friendship which is strongly tested when Emily asks of Stephanie a simple favour – would she collect Nicky from school one afternoon and look after him while she is away on business?

Stephanie agrees, of course but, when Emily fails to return and seemingly disappears into thin air, Stephanie becomes an amateur detective. She discovers some rather disturbing things about Emily’s past, in the process, while at the same time exhuming some of her own secrets. And she and Sean become a tad too close…

A soupcon of drama, a morsel of mystery, and more than a dash of dark humour

It is certainly an interesting, and brave, departure for Feig who has successfully built a catalogue of outright hilarious comedies over the years. Yet, his venture into thriller territory is not an outright success. The elements are there – two complex characters who couldn’t be more opposite, whether in looks, career, outlook on life and more.

Yet, both have secrets lurking under the surface. The film contains a soupcon of drama, a morsel of mystery and more than a dash of dark humour. But, as it heads towards its conclusion and towards having its main questions resolved, it kind of ties itself in knots, with a couple of scenes too many at the end which pile on the melodrama a tad unnecessarily.

That said, seeing the Kendrick/Lively tandem at work is worth the ticket price alone. Kendrick has played kooky before, while Lively effortlessly exudes glamour.

On the surface these seem like pretty natural roles for them to slip into. And yet, both Stephanie and Emily are multifaceted characters, their outward appearances masking the many issues they hide beneath.

Stephanie’s innocent, optimistic exterior belies her steely determination to discover the truth behind Emily’s disappearance, even if it means confronting her own dark and problematic past. And, she allows her envy of Emily’s glamourous life to override her grief at her disappearance.

The part allows Kendrick to run the gamut of emotions, from despondent to delighted, curious and culpable. She hits every note to perfection in a spot-on performance.

She is matched step by step by Lively, depicting an Alpha Female who has it all, yet is missing something crucial. She is a woman who may, on the surface, seem to be playing with Stephanie, as she does and say things simply to shock her.

Yet, her affection for this new friend is obvious. It’s a role that balances a piercing intensity and poignant vulnerability before the cracks begin to show, and Lively’s screen presence is extremely commanding.

The chemistry between them is effervescent – so much so when they kiss in a drunken moment it is hardly a surprise. Both performances are so absorbing that it is impossible to figure out what each is going to do next, which adds on to the tension no end.

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