While at first glance “A Simple Favor” appears to be in the same vein as a “Gone Girl” mystery, it takes an unexpected turn, as director Paul Feig attempts a neo-noir film, thriller, and comedy all at once. After the film’s release on Sept. 14, “The New Republic” rightly labeled it “a mash-up of ‘Mean Girls’ and an episode of ‘Law and Order.’” While the combination is chaotic, Blake Lively’s stellar wardrobe, Anna Kendrick’s bouncy cuteness, and Henry Golding’s sophisticated British accent — with plot twists to grab the audience’s attention — make for an intriguing film that nonetheless falls short of good.
When their sons bring together vlogging, helicopter mom Stephanie (Kendrick), and the sophisticated and mysterious Emily (Lively), the two quickly become friends, but not in the traditional sense. While their sons play together, they enjoy cocktails and trade dark secrets about their scandalous sexual history. Emily begins relying on Stephanie for small favors, like picking up her son from school. And then, Emily disappears. Troubled by her “best” friend’s disappearance and death, Stephanie begins doing her own investigating, while also beginning an affair with Emily’s attractive husband (Golding). Cute, bouncy Stephanie, following the advice and confident example of Emily, transforms into a mysterious and sneaking sleuth to uncover Emily’s own secrets.
The movie tried to be noir, a film genre that originated in French films in the 1930s, developing from movies like Orson Welles’ “Touch of Evil” into what is now called neo-noir. A noir film is characterized by crime and violence, cynical protagonists, femme fatale characters, eroticism and sexuality, and betrayal. While “A Simple Favor” did not use the traditional filming techniques of the genre, it was created around a list of noir themes, checking off as many boxes as it could in a two-hour run time.
All this was combined with comedy and thriller, which brought confusion to the movie. It could not seem to determine what it wanted to accomplish.
However, the Blake Lively / Anna Kendrick duo intrigued the audience. With her Tom Wolfe-ish suits, martinis, perfect husband, and sophisticated lifestyle, Lively’s Emily had a sexy mystery about her. Her tall, blond, and daring performance perfectly contrasted Kendrick’s character, Stephanie, with her constant smiles, colorful clothes, and anxious-mom energy. The vastly different characters of Emily and Stephanie were a delightful duo whose contrast added a touch of comedy to a dark story.
But this comedic side — meant to bring some lightness to the story — actually gave the film a more distorted flavor. With the noir themes of dark histories, murder, and revenge as the driving themes of the story, the comedy forced a giggle out of viewers in the midst of watching twisted characters carry out debauchery, which felt like an inappropriate response.
The mysterious flare of “A Simple Favor” will keep you not on the edge, but maybe firmly planted in the middle, of your seat. Combine that with great costumes, good acting, and some mysterious twists and turns, and “A Simple Favor” turns out to be a mediocre movie with some disturbing characters.