Anna Kendrick is a cutesy, naive woman, with a nervous laugh and a pension for going “uh” and “yeah.” And in this film, she plays a Mommy Blogger, someone who makes videos on how to cook brisket and make friendship bracelets. One day, when she goes to pick her son up from school, she meets Blake Lively, the mother of one of her boy’s friends, who invites her over to her incredibly stylish house for some martinis. Lively is everything Kendrick isn’t–assertive, foul-mouthed, impeccably dressed–which makes her fascinating to the latter. That’s probably why Kendrick winds up doing everything Lively tells her to including picking her son up from school one day. This turns into more than a “simple favor” since Lively doesn’t return for several days, and the police suspect foul play, because she and her husband, Henry Golding, were having financial and marital problems. Kendrick doesn’t believe this, however, even after the cops find what they think is Lively’s body, and so does some digging of her own, uncovering some shocking, albeit rather silly, answers.
A Simple Favor is a slick, enjoyable thriller. The pace is brisk, the story is never boring, and the acting, for the most part, is pretty good. I was happy to see Henry Golding starring in another major release so soon after Crazy Rich Asians, and I’ve always felt that Blake Lively is a much better actress than people often give her credit for. Plus, if you’re the type of person who enjoys mysteries, particularly those with female leads, you’ll definitely find something to enjoy here. As much as I love Mandy, and think it’s a better crafted film than this, I admit that it’s extremely intense, and very much not for everyone. (Part of the reason why I went to go see this was I needed a bit of a palette cleanser after the heartbreak and nightmarish insanity of that flick). So, again, if you want to have a good, simple time at the movies, this will probably be right up your alley.
That said, it’s not perfect, and I can’t ever see myself watching it again. Part of this has to do with the fact that it’s surprisingly funny, and not in a way that feels tonally consistent. See, some films, like Mandy, will be serious, but inject moments of humor here and there to provide levity after something horrible has happened. Then there are movies like this, which have jokes throughout, even at points where the story would be served better if the filmmakers played things straight. And sometimes the humor even breaks the rules of the film’s reality. What I mean by that is, for the most part, A Simple Favor appears to take place in the real world. People get hurt, and make mistakes like they actually do. But, every now and then, it’ll throw in bits of slapstick, in one scene, a character gets tossed in the air after getting hit by a car, and is totally fine, that come off as inconsistent with the more grounded feel that the director has established. Something else that feels inconsistent with the tone is the background that is given to Anna Kendrick’s character. What we find out, and this isn’t really a spoiler, since it has nothing to do with the main story or the ending, is that she had sex with, and possibly even got pregnant by, her brother. She’s a widow, and it’s implied that when her husband found out, he killed himself and her brother in a car accident. This revelation is so messed up, and also so irrelevant to the main story of trying to find out where Blake Lively went, that I was never really able to get back into the movie. I couldn’t really get behind Anna Kendrick’s character, and her weird, cutesy quirks, knowing what I did. I was like, “No! You have no right to judge anyone here. You had a child with your brother!” Speaking of Anna Kendrick, even though she gives a fine enough performance, with the latter, darker half of the film allowing her to show a wider range of emotions, in the first half, she really got on my nerves. She’s just playing herself, with all the cutesy, nervous tittering and hand wringing you’ve seen her do in Pitch Perfect, Into The Woods and a million other movies. If you’re not a fan of that, maybe don’t watch this flick.
So, in the end, the film is easy enough to digest, and has enough twists and turns to keep you invested. It’s not nearly as good as Mandy, which I really do think you all should see, but I also recognize that this is an easier, less intense ride, and that many audience members will want that. make of this what you will.