A Simple Favour review

Advertised as being “from the darker side of Paul Feig”, this new comedy thriller is an entertaining romp that plays like Gone Girl meets Wild Things. It also gives stars Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively two of their best roles to date.

The film opens with single mom Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick) laying out the plot set-up for viewers of her cooking-for-moms vlog. A few days earlier, her new best friend Emily (Blake Lively) had asked her to pick up her son from school, and then promptly disappeared. Flashbacks fill in the details: Stephanie's an eager-to-please, control freakish super-parent, while fashion exec Emily lives in a high tone mansion with handsome husband Sean (Crazy Rich Asians' Henry Golding, having quite the week with two releases back to back) and would rather drink Martinis and swap salacious gossip than plan play-dates.

When Emily disappears, there are increasing hints that there was trouble in paradise, so Stephanie sets out to investigate, aided by tips from her vlog subscribers. However, each detail she uncovers about Emily's life only serves to deepen the mystery.

Aided by a glorious French pop soundtrack (which the film cleverly incorporates into the action), Feig maintains a snappy pace throughout, gleefully piling up the twists with a tongue-in-cheek tone that recalls 1998 trash classic Wild Things. That combination of pace and tone pays off beautifully throughout the film, allowing for a playful mix of comedy and thrills with a surprisingly dark edge.

Kendrick is terrific fun as Stephanie, whether discovering a talent for sleuthing or letting her various desires get the better of her, as in a splendid comic set piece that sees her getting stuck in one of Emily's fabulous dresses just as the police come round. Lively, for her part, is a constant and delightful surprise – nothing in her career so far will prepare you for just how good she is here and she's clearly relishing the opportunity to show just what she can do. To that end, Kendrick and Lively make quite the comic double act and the film's most enjoyable scenes are the sequences where the pair bond over afternoon cocktails and shared secrets.

With the two leads on such killer form, the supporting cast barely get a look in, but there's strong work from Andrew Rannells as one of the catty parents at Stephanie's school (“Any excuse to get out the stapler,” he snipes, when he spots her putting up Missing Person posters), while Rupert Friend has a hilariously camp extended cameo as Emily's fashion guru boss.

The script is careful to pay as much attention to the thriller elements as to the comedy, resulting in a satisfying, suspenseful mystery that's frequently laugh-out-loud funny. If there's a problem, it's only that the film takes a somewhat inconsistent approach to its sleazier aspects, holding back in some areas, but not afraid to shock in others. That backfires a little, because there's an obvious avenue that goes unexplored and you can't help feeling the film would have benefited from venturing a little further in that direction.

That minor quibble aside, this is enormous fun from beginning to end, thanks to delightful comic performances from Kendrick and Lively, a snappy script and perfectly pitched direction from Feig.

a simple favour 2018 movie embed

Matthew Turner

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