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'A Simple Favor' Review

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October 1, 2018
Hunter Friesen
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Stephanie Smothers is a young woman who absolutely loves her job as a single mother to her son. Her life consists of caring for him, volunteering at school, and running a popular parenting vlog. 

At school, she meets Emily Nelson, the mother of her son’s best friend. Emily works a high-end job in the city and is powerful, mysterious, and glamorous, all the things Stephanie isn’t. The two of them quickly become best friends, or so Stephanie thinks. One day she gets a call from Emily, asking for “a simple favor”. The favor quickly gets out of hand, flipping Stephanie's clean life upside down. A twisted game starts to take shape, one that threatens to uncover layers of hidden secrets and dark desires. 

A Simple Favor comes as the first drama for director Paul Feig, who’s best known for comedies such as Spy and Ghostbusters. Feig directs the first act impeccably. He sets up the plot with confidence by introducing us to the main characters. We are given their personalities and background, but not in their entirety. Some details are left out intentionally in order to build suspense, which works very well at keeping us on the edge of our seats.

Unfortunately, the next two acts don’t work as well. Feig starts to lose control over his film and things get messy. The pacing slows way down and important plot points are thrown at us left and right until we can’t keep things straight. The film doesn’t want to be taken too seriously as it mixes elements of both drama and comedy. The only problem is that the flipping between tones doesn’t feel as natural as it should. The third act especially suffers from this as we don’t know what to be feeling when the climax arrives. 

Adapted from the 2017 novel of the same name, the writing for A Simple Favor fares just as well as the directing. The first act introduces a strong premise with interesting characters. The conversations between Stephanie and Emily are whip-smart as each character tries to understand the other. The next two acts aren’t able to sustain the same level of mystery as the first. Things start to get a little too preposterous too quickly. The characters lose their edge and become carbon copies of what we’ve seen before in previous films. 

There is also an overabundance of clichés in the latter half of the film that undermines all the good material that had been set up in the beginning. None of them will be listed for the sake of spoilers. It’s just very underwhelming because each one has been done before and comes off as predictable and disappointing.

Anna Kendrick does pretty solid work as Stephanie Smothers. She plays the young mom type quite well and provides a lot of great material for the comedic tone. The one struggle she has is when the film starts to get darker as she’s just not entirely believable as a character with a bad side. 

Blake Lively, sharing the same fate as Kendrick, plays Emily Nelson. Lively excels early on as her confidence brings an aura of mystery to her character. By the end, however, she loses what made her so good and her performance becomes more one-note. Fresh off his breakout role as Nick Young in Crazy Rich Asians, Henry Golding stars as Sean Townsend, Emily’s husband. Golding brings the same charm from his previous role but with more edge to it. He fairs alright but constantly gets overshadowed by the two leading ladies. 

A Simple Favor can be loosely branded as a campier and lower-quality version of Gone Girl. It boasts one of the best opening acts of the year, but also some of the biggest mistakes that lead to a lot of missed potential. Overall, A Simple Favor is an average film that serves up enough mystery and thrills to warrant a viewing.

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