Where do I even begin with this one?
A Simple Favor is, ironically, a very complicated film. When I first watched the trailer, I had filed it as “another thriller surviving only on its leads”. After watching it this weekend though, I’ve realized that that is both true and false.
This movie is about the ever mysterious Emily Nelson, played by the charismatic Blake Lively, and how she goes missing. Enter goody-goody friend Stephanie, quirky Anna Kendrick, who runs a vlog on mommy tips and more bubbly stuff. Stephanie is devastated by the disappearance of her friend and tries desperately to unravel the enigma that is Emily.
And, boy, is she surprised by what she finds.
Mystery/Thriller is an understatement.
A Simple Favor is a lot like climbing an endless staircase. The story rises continuously until there’s nowhere left for it to go, leaving the viewers exhausted from the journey.
To keep this review spoiler free, I will be avoiding discussing the plot. However, it’s safe for me to say that whenever you think the storm passed, another one comes.
Emily Nelson, a woman shrouded by an air of mystery and elegance, is a tough working mother whose charm is reinforced by her sexy nature and her love of pantsuits. Nothing screams woman to respect like a woman in androgynous clothing drinking a martini, and boy do they milk that. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the word Martini so much in a two hour film. Blake Lively delivers a perfect performance, shifting from sweet/friendly to intimidating/calculating in the blink of an eye. Even though Lively is considered the lead of this feature, we actually don’t see her the most. Her screen time is relegated to fifteen mesmerizing minutes at the start, and another twenty at the end, and a few good flashbacks sprinkled in between. The actor’s skill is enough to make her the only thing you remember even when she’s not there.
Then comes Stephanie Smothers. Her last name says it all. Stephanie is a diligent stay-at-home mom who works really hard at being a mother. Surprise surprise, no one likes her and people make fun of her (the type of role Kendrick seems to draw in like flies at a barbecue). That doesn’t mean she doesn’t deliver because she does. As always her natural bubbly persona shines through and Stephanie quickly becomes a crowd favorite (despite her tendency to make bad choices). Fortunately though, this character has a little more spunk than one would expect. As the movie progresses, Stephanie becomes less the gullible mom and more a woman you should learn to fear.
Despite the strong actors, the movie fell flat for a few times. Wanting to keep the mystery and thrill alive, every uncovered twist makes way for another, like a never-ending rollercoaster. Although that should have kept me at the edge of my seat, I found myself wishing someone would just make a stupid joke so I can just forget all the drama.
When so much happens throughout, it’s hard to find an ending satisfying enough. In A Simple Favor, it’s as though the director doesn’t attempt to find one. The finale feels rushed and out of character for everyone and is also the one moment where they finally use a bit of humour. I found myself laughing nervously at the jokes, wondering why I’m giggling during the climax of the film? By the time it was all over, I found myself feeling very underwhelmed.
In line with the tension, A Simple Favor moves choppily back and forth, and sometimes, you just wish it would stop. Just when the pace of a scene is set, you’re quickly reverted to the past to watch the charming Blake Lively deliver the story to you as opposed to listening to it being told by someone else. Lively is one of their strongest players and they tried to get her in there as much as possible. Which meant that sometimes, the flashbacks were just too much, and I found myself thinking, “Can the girl finishing telling me the story or does Lively have to do it every time?”
What helps offset the constant tug-and-pull is the cinematography. It has really embraced the mystery of Emily Nelson, whether it was through the moving shots through the gorgeous spacious house she lives in or through shots of Anna Kendrick’s reflection on all the glass around. Despite the darkness that should cloud this story, the film shows nothing but light. Daylight floods the gorgeous house in most scenes. This gives Emily’s life an almost heavenly glow, which contrasts starkly with the reality of her life. The darkest moments are told in the whitest light, no matter where the sequence is set.
Regardless of how draining the film can be, the story is messed up and executed well enough that it has been hovering in my head ever since I watched it. Certain shots of Blake Lively’s face as she comes to understand things, the tone of Anna Kendrick as she delivers the line. Some of these things are still very vivid in my mind, and I find myself wishing I could sit through the whole thing again just to experience the performance one more time.
But then I remember how dense the whole story is and I tell myself, “Maybe I’m better off sticking to reruns of Adventure Time.”