A Simple Favour is a neo-noir thriller based on the novel by Darcey Bell as projected through the mind of writer-director Paul Feig. Best known for Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy, Feig has built his directorial career around female-led comedies. Coaxing great performances from his cast, he’s decided to branch out into the world of thrillers with his latest, A Simple Favour. It’s almost as though Feig is trying to do his own Vertigo or Diabolique in this dark love triangle mystery thriller. The film stars Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively, two considerable Hollywood stars, who have garnered acclaim from audiences and critics with an impressive string of performances over the years.
Following in the same groove as Gone Girl, the story centres around the publicised disappearance of a woman. Vlogger and supermom, Stephanie, becomes acquainted with an unorthodox and racy mom from their daycare school. When the hedonistic and unpredictable woman vanishes, it becomes Stephanie’s mission to discover the truth behind her disappearance. While the film is stylish and has plenty of twists-and-turns, trying to capture something akin to David Fincher’s thriller, it’s taken from the perspective of a friend rather than a husband. It doesn’t have the same level of trashiness, but it is crass and uncertain of itself.
There’s no escaping it, Anna Kendrick is pocket-sized and tends towards prim and proper. This disposition makes her a natural underdog, able to leverage her petite girl-woman vibe to great comedy effect in her writing and acting. While an acting talent, her casting is just as uncomfortable as A Simple Favour’s wavering tone. Feig starts with some comedy zing, but it gently falls away as the mystery unfolds, only to return to complete the set of book-ends. Feig’s indecision in whether it’s a dark mystery thriller or dark comedy mystery thriller stunts the flow and causes A Simple Favour to drag. You can’t help but wonder how a straight-laced dramatic actress would have enhanced the role.
“Squire, fetch me my stallion. Neigh, my pony.”
While a bit uneasy in its tonal shifts, the film benefits from a lights-out performance from Blake Lively as Emily. Enigmatic, even more so in this thriller, she mesmerises the screen essentially playing a blend of Chris Pratt and Kate Hudson, enjoying some good chemistry with Kendrick, despite the curious choice of co-leads. You’ll recognise Henry Golding from Crazy Rich Asians, who brings his suave demeanour to failed author and husband, Sean.
A Simple Favour seems to borrow elements from better thrillers. While intriguing and dangerous at first, it suffers as a result of Lively’s vanishing act. Kendrick has enough star power to keep the lights on and there are some great moments, but it’s just not quite as satisfying or compelling as a thriller with a two-hour running time should be. The coarse comedy jars with the film’s sense of sophistication and instead of immersing us in the deep end, we’re only allowed to dip a toe in, left to watch people splashing about.
Perhaps it would have been safer for Feig to start with a dark comedy thriller before submerging himself into the world of a neo-noir. While promising, A Simple Favour is also drawn out and elusive, never allowing us to fully settle and possibly trying to be a bit too clever for its own good. The net result is: a bundle of twisty story lines, chameleon characters who move from being likeable to downright despicable and ultimately a rather uneven film, which would’ve done well to maintain its dark comedy tone. It’s a noble effort, which while overlong and a bit frustrating, remains just entertaining and stylish enough to justify your investment of time.
The bottom line: Off-kilter