Moviegoers love a good mystery/thriller. The genre is known for keeping audiences glued to their seats, hopefully with twists and turns that keep one guessing throughout. But rarely do these types of projects also make you belly laugh. It’s that juxtaposition that Paul Feig lives within for his new movie A Simple Favor, based off the novel of the same name. Because while the main story follows a mysterious disappearance and possible murder, Feig also allows the room to deflate, as the likes of Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively riff, giggle, and sip martinis throughout the brisk 117 minute run time.
A Simple Favor largely follows the character of mommy vlogger Stephanie, played by Pitch Perfect star Anna Kendrick. A stay at home mom who doesn’t seem to interact with adults much, Stephanie’s life seems about as isolating and boring as can be. That is until she meets the mother of another boy at school, Blake Lively’s mysterious and stunning Emily. The two start a friendship, which quickly turns into a game of cat and mouse when Emily suddenly disappears, and Stephanie ends up harboring feelings for her husband.
There is certainly a palpable sense of danger in A Simple Favor, even during the film’s lighter moments in the first act. Something just isn’t right about Emily, and Stephanie’s growing infatuation of her new bestie seems startling as well. This suspicion is felt through small glances during the film, as it becomes clear that the audience can’t trust anyone — not even Stephanie.
But given Paul Feig’s penchant for awkward comedy, there are also tons of laughs. Feig brings back the same sensibility that made Bridesmaids a massively successful hit, and his TV series Freaks and Geeks such a cult comedy. Despite a life-or-death situation, there are still plenty of awkward moments — mostly from Anna Kendrick’s bumbling Stephanie. And while Blake Lively’s Emily comes off a bit more sinister, her laissez-faire outlook on life and marriage allows for some harsh and funny exchanges with the rest of the cast.
While Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick certainly carry the movie, there’s a strong supporting cast at work as well. Crazy Rich Asians star Henry Golding continues having the best month ever playing Emily’s husband, whose intentions are never really clear. Girls star Andrew Rannells also plays local parent Darren, chewing the scenery with every brief appearance on screen. Paul Feig even enlists help from Freaks and Geeks actress Linda Cardellini for a brief role, which should be an exciting scene for fans of his career.
A Simple Favor is framed through the use of Stephanie’s mommy vlog, which allows Anna Kendrick the opportunity to directly address the camera and narrate the story. Kendrick shines here, displaying the personality that makes her so popular in late night TV interviews. Indeed, both Kendrick and Lively seem a bit similar to their characters’ in the way that they speak, no doubt helping the actresses pull of such strong performances.
While Paul Feig was met with a ton of hate over Ghostbusters, the director has a welcome return to form in A Simple Favor. The project has all of his charm, humor, and style, but also isn’t the typical Feig comedy fare. It’s still very much a thriller, and the final confrontation in the third act has more twists and turns than you can shake a gin martini at. The leading ladies get to show off a variety of layers, proving while they’ve kept working all these years. All of these factors make A Simple Favor anything but simple, resulting in a surprising, thrilling, and funny theatrical ride.