VOD film review: A Simple Favour
James R | On 26, Feb 2019
Director: Paul Feig
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding
Watch A Simple Favour online in the UK: BBC iPlayer / STARZPLAY / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
“You can get close to her, but you can never quite reach her. She’s like a beautiful ghost. Never entirely there.” That’s Sean (Henry Golding) talking about his wife, Emily (Blake Lively), in A Simple Favor, the latest movie from Paul Feig. It’s the kind of description that belongs in a hard-boiled thriller, and Feig dives into those noir-tinged conventions with wicked relish, pulling the rug from underneath our expectations at every opportunity.
If that sounds like an unlikely choice for the director of Bridesmaids and the underrated Ghostbusters remake, that feeling never quite goes away throughout A Simple Favor, a movie that blends genre thrills with flashes of humour. It’s a blend that doesn’t always go down easy, unlike the silky smooth martinis that Emily makes for her and Stephanie (Anna Kendrick). Both mothers doing the school run, they bond in Emily’s sleek, minimalist living room, a place where Stephanie couldn’t be more out of place; while Emily is a successful fashion designer with a high-powered career, Stephanie’s got a vlog where she shares recipes for cupcakes and meatless meatballs.
Their two worlds collide when Stephanie agrees to the titular favour – looking after Emily’s son, Miles, while she’s on a business trip to Miami. Emily never returns, prompting Stephanie and Sean to investigate what’s happened to her. But there’s more to this missing person than meets the eye; she’s not quite the elusive ghost that genre rules would have us believe, and Jessica Sharzer’s script (adapted from Darcey Bell’s novel) has fun undermining old tropes and layering on new ones with every twist of the plot. That shifting sense of identity applies to Stephanie too, as a dark side to the smiling, overly polite mom emerges and she seems to step into the gap Emily leaves behind.
Most of A Simple Favor’s fun lies in seeing Lively and Kendrick sinking their teeth into these delightfully complex characters, finding new depths, hidden secrets and shades of grey in between the lines of the pulpy, page-turning thrills. The only problem is that the more surprises the script stuffs into its two-hour runtime, the more uneven it gets. Lively and Kendrick are both excellent, the former sporting a wardrobe to die for with a charisma most Hollywood stars would kill for, and the latter staying endearingly awkward and twitchy in every increasingly thorny encounter. The power dynamic between the pair is electric, leaving you guessing constantly who’s in control and whether they really are friends.
But Feig is so busy racing to the next shocking revelation that everything built upon their relationship ends up rather wobbly; Stephanie’s transformation doesn’t quite ring true, while the final act devolves into a string of blindsiding turns that end up more silly than suspenseful. Feig’s direction is confident and oozes a knowing cool, right down to the seedy jazz score, but A Simple Favor feels like it’s trying too hard to be anything but.
A Simple Favour is available to watch online in the UK on STARZPLAY, a streaming service that costs £4.99 a month. The platform is available on iOS, Android, Apple TV and Virgin Media On Demand or through Amazon Prime Video Channels, as an add-on subscription to your existing account. It is also available on BBC iPlayer until 13th December 2020.