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"A Simple Favor" is an Offbeat Little Thriller that Adeptly Wields the Talents of Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively: Review

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Film Review: A Simple Favor
There's a sub-genre that Hollywood has brought back in the aftermath of the massive success of David Fincher's adaptation of Gone Girl a few years back; the domestic thriller, usually based on a best-selling novel and usually starring a woman. Other entrants in the genre include The Girl on the Train, the upcoming The Woman in the Window, and Paul Feig's new movie A Simple Favor. I am a huge proponent of the domestic thriller, as I love twisty and often fun mysteries that also have room for some social satire. With a script by Jessica Sharzer adapted from the Darcey Bell novel, A Simple Favor offers up everything I love about the genre in exciting and unexpected new ways. 

The movie stars Blake Lively as a gorgeous, sophisticated, and deeply unhappy mother who befriends a put-together mommy vlogger (Anna Kendrick), who plays detective when Lively's character suddenly disappears. Although it shares many similarities with Gone Girl, A Simple Favor's tone is far lighter and more straightforwardly funny than the bitter black comedy of Fincher's film. This should be no surprise given that Feig has never directed anything like this before, having mostly done comedies like Bridesmaids, The Heat, and Spy (which are among some of my favorite movies of the past decade). Although not strictly a comedy, there are a lot of comedic moments in the film, which already distinguishes it from similarly-themed movies, although it does seem to have an awareness of and appreciation for the Hollywood history of female-led thrillers. One could imagine Gene Tierney in the Lively role. 

The film's greatest asset is its two leading ladies. Kendrick has not had a vehicle for her talents this good in years. Her Stephanie is high strung and type-A but always played with a sad edge, like she can’t help but be the way that she is. That she feels so out of place in the pyschosexual drama unfolding between Lively's character and her husband (Henry Golding), is perfect for the character and something the film could have gone even further with. Lively exudes a jaded sort of elegance and fits perfectly into the deep chain of mysterious blondes who've long populated stories like this.  The two women expertly handle the bizarre quasi-comedic tone. As for the rest of the cast, Golding intriguingly is trying something a shade darker than what he was doing in his movie debut (last month's Crazy Rich Asians), and Jean Smart and Linda Cardellini (who starred in Feig's Freaks and Geeks nearly two decades ago) amusingly pop up for one-scene roles as women who help deepen the mystery. 

A Simple Favor starts out strong and reaches a high point when it's suggested there's more to Kendrick's character than initially presented. But unfortunately, Feig seems ill-equipped to handle the story’s increasingly far-fetched twists, and attempts to keep the comedic tone of the earlier part begin to ring false as the film reaches its dramatic climax. Light-hearted title cards revealing the fate of the characters after the final scene don’t add anything and come off as a self-conscious attempt to balance the tone of the movie.  

It's no accident that Feig and cinematographer John Schwartzman decided to shoot this movie with bright colors and lots of light, unlike the shadows and darkness preferred by many thrillers. And despite some problems with the approach to the story, this movie is still very much worth seeing. Domestic thrillers are often dismissed and relegated to the Lifetime channel, but I hope Hollywood is serious about making more of them for the big screen. That way it ensures we continue to see the kind of variation that produces cool and colorful oddities like this movie. 

What did YOU think of A Simple Favor? Leave a comment below! Thanks for reading!

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