Stephanie Smothers is an uptight single mother whose world is turned upside down when the glamorous Emily Nelson breezes into her life. Soon Stephanie is caught up in Emily’s whirlwind, but their connection goes awry when Emily mysteriously disappears. Though police are on the case, Stephanie can’t help but mount a search for her friend via her popular cooking and crafting vlog. As the trail grows cold, Stephanie uncovers more than she bargains for as she realizes Emily may not have been who she seemed…
[Review is spoiler-free!]
Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick) is the vision of cookie-cutter motherhood – pert and perfect, at the ready to volunteer herself for anything her son Miles (Joshua Satine) may need. When Miles hits it off with fellow classmate Nicky (Ian Ho), Stephanie scrambles to make sure the two have a perfect playdate. Enter Emily Nelson (Blake Lively), Nicky’s glamazon of a mom who couldn’t be more diametrically opposed to Stephanie in every way. Whereas Stephanie makes Miles the center of her life, Emily barely acknowledges her son. (When Nicky asks if he can “have fun,” Emily tartly replies, “I let you tear my labia as you exited my body. That was fun.”) The very busy Emily is more than happy to let Stephanie take the brunt of the duties for both kids – so much so that fellow parents at the school tease Stephanie by calling her Emily’s new nanny. But Stephanie couldn’t care less – she’s fascinated by the glimpses Emily allows of her life and, despite the odds, the two begin to bond. (Copious amounts of martinis surely help – there’s gin flowing in nearly every scene!)
And what a life it is! Emily appears to have it all – from the high-powered corporate job in New York, to the sleek modern home, to the super-hot husband (Crazy Rich Asians’ Henry Golding as Sean Townshend), plus the adorable Nicky (Sean’s mini-me). But Emily’s tough exterior is one of blasé – a setup most would kill for is one she only deigns to exist in, which is especially baffling to the lonely, struggling Stephanie. (The fact that Emily wears suits throughout the film is no accident – she dresses like an alpha cis male Wall Street trader, and acts like one too.) This creates the perfect setup for tension that continues to build. Stephanie clearly wants what Emily has; but will decorum keep her in her lane, or will her Nice Girl veneer crack?
The casting couldn’t be more spot on – Kendrick perfectly embodies Stephanie’s simpering and seething dualities, and Lively is on fire as the heartless, sociopathic Emily. Henry Golding also shines as Emily’s bewitched and beleaguered husband. It’s been thrilling to watch Henry’s meteoric rise, from hosting a Malaysian travel show, to getting cast as the lead in the summer’s biggest box office smash (the aforementioned Crazy Rich Asians), to costarring in this engaging dramedy. He’s the real deal, and I can’t wait to see more of Golding on the big screen.
Other cast standouts are Rupert Friend as Emily’s hilarious Zoolander-esque boss Dylan Nylon (there were far too few scenes with his character – Nylon needs his own spinoff), and Stephanie’s Greek Chorus fellow parents: Andrew Rannells (Broadway’s The Book of Mormon) as Darren, Kelly McCormack as Stacy, and beloved standup comic Aparna Nancherla as Sona. One of the few stumbling blocks is the normally solid Linda Cardellini, playing scorned lover Diana Hyland. Her performance is so unbelievable and over the top, it’s even laughable in a movie that swells with kitsch. It doesn’t help that she never shows up again – her scene is so silly and jarring, it would’ve been better off left on the cutting room floor.
The film is adapted from author Darcey Bell’s novel of the same name; and I must admit I went into this with very low expectations, despite the movie’s pedigree. This is Bell’s first book, and it was absolutely dragged on Goodreads. If you’re thinking it bears a striking resemblance to Gone Girl, you’re not wrong. (Don’t worry – this is not a spoiler; there are plenty of plot twists that will still keep you guessing.) I am not sure how Darcey’s work got plucked for this plum opportunity. I’ve searched for a story on how it was chosen, as well as more details on the author, and so far haven’t come up with much. I feel like there’s more to this story, and I am dying of curiosity over here. That, or perhaps it’s as simple as Ms. Bell having a killer agent, in which case where can I get one of those?
Regardless of the source material, it’s clearly been honed to near-perfection by director Paul Feig and screenwriter Jessica Sharzer. Of course Paul Feig is the man behind Bridesmaids, Spy, The Heat, the rebooted Ghostbusters, pretty much every favorite episode of The Office, and much more. It’s his skilled vision that keeps the humor sharp in this offering, and his first foray into the dark side is welcome. Much of the credit must also be handed to Ms. Sharzer, an episode writer and supervising producer for American Horror Story, who also wrote the screenplay for Nerve. However, even with all of this talent, it still could’ve used some tightening overall. The tone is uneven, never quite fully committing to its schmaltzy potential. The film is at its best when it embraces the parody side of the drama.
A Simple Favor is a tumultuous roller coaster. It’s hella fun and, with the right attitude, it’s a ride you won’t regret taking.
A Simple Favor (2018) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time Stephanie and Emily do! It’s no coincidence Emily’s drink of choice is a gin martini (shaken, not stirred!), and that the brand of spirits happens to be Aviation. You know, the company Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively’s husband, owns? Yep! (Booze is featured so prominently in the flick, it’s practically the fourth costar. I’m not complaining – I’m just thirsty now.)
Take a Drink: every time Stephanie records a vlog entry. It’s fun to watch the viewer counter rise as she mixes mystery with her cake batter.
Take a Drink: for the stellar soundtrack, including the sly use of Serge Gainsbourg’s “Bonnie & Clyde” and “Sunshine Day” by The Brady Bunch.
Take a Drink: every time you wince in sympathy whenever Sean suffers writer’s block. I feel you, buddy!
Do a Shot: for Henry Golding, who’s cemented his status from new screen crush to bona fide star.
No extra scenes, but the credits are incredibly fun and stylish – they’re worth sticking around for in and of themselves.