A Simple Favor
A Simple Favor may seem, at first glance, to be director Paul Feig’s first foray into more serious filmmaking. Feig has carved a niche as a director of female-centric comedies such as Bridesmaids, Spy, and The Heat. While A Simple Favor deals with disappearances, murder, and bad money management, it’s still a Feig comedy at its core.
The film begins with a vlog. Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) is speaking to a camera, updating her mom followers about the ongoing saga of her missing best friend, Emily (Blake Lively). Emily had been missing for five days at this point, and Stephanie is really worried. Of course, she needs to explain the situation to her followers, so to the flashback we go.
Stephanie is your typical Type-A, Pinterest perfect single mom. She runs a crafting and cooking vlog for moms who want to be just as involved and productive as she is. Understandably, the other moms at her son’s school are grateful for her contributions and alienated by her too-perfect and eager demeanor. That is, until she meets Emily. Emily is a craftsman with cusses, drinks in the afternoon, and wears perfectly tailored tuxedos and five-inch heels to pick her son up from school. Both are unattainable female archetypes, and both have humanity in the core of their characters. While these two ladies seem unbelievably incompatible, it’s nothing that an afterschool martini and kiddo playdate can’t solve.
Emily’s life seems so perfect from the outside. She has an amazing house, more confidence than a pre-war dictator, a high-profile job in the city, and a hot husband (Henry Golding) who can’t keep his hands off her. But as Stephanie grows closer, we learn not everything is perfect. She and husband Sean have money troubles. When Stephanie takes a candid photo of Emily in the park one afternoon and Emily switches from friendly to shooting daggers with her eyes, Stephanie starts to understand that not everything is as it seems. Emily’s sudden disappearance just days later sets Stephanie’s life into a tailspin of sleuthing into Emily’s past to get to the truth about this mystery woman.
Though the plot tries to cozy up to a Hitchcockian tradition of vanishing women and amateur gumshoes, A Simple Favor is, by design, no Vertigo. The absurdity of the plot is embraced. Feig chooses to solve the mystery of Emily while having some fun along the way. Humor is used carefully, and never to undermine tension or lose respect from the audience, but rather to endear us to these characters. Stephanie’s awkward, self-deprecating humor is a necessary match for Stephanie’s aggressive ego. Even in her absence, Stephanie is still able to play off her missing straight man.
Settling into the balance of laughs and intrigue is an easy cinematic experience. The stakes feel low, though they’re literally life and death. A Simple Favor refuses to take itself seriously, and is an entertaining little film because of that.