On first impression, a thriller is an unlikely genre for director Paul Feig to tackle, but with his last comedy outings not unconvincingly weaving in police work (The Heat), spying (Spy) and the busting of ghosts (Ghostbusters), he’s managed to play in a few different sandpits along the way. Matters also make more sense considering the Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively-starring A Simple Favour feels more lurid semi-comic noir than stylised, grimy Fincher.
Kendrick summons the same squirmy comic timing we’ve come to expect here as somewhat excruciating small-town “mommy blogger” Stephanie, trying to sustain life as a single mother through being an online video influencer. Suddenly thrown into the orbit of new friend Emily (Lively) who is everything she’s not—confident, wealthy, stylish, unpredictable—Stephanie strives to emulate her and shares selective elements of her deepest personal secrets.
The film’s anticipated mystery arrives in the form of Emily’s unexplained disappearance, with Stephanie trying to unravel events while at the same time unsuccessfully battling an internal envy that drives her to pick up the lifestyle her “best friend” has left behind. Kendrick sells this side of her character, covetous and impulsive behind a veneer of sweet politeness, as strongly as the earlier friendship-forming was marked by her obsequious and awkward performance.
Unfortunately, while Stephanie indulges in realising her fantasies by ascending to claim Emily’s vacated home, wardrobe and dreamy author husband (Crazy Rich Asians’ Henry Golding), it doesn’t sit well alongside her Nancy Drew antics. The film hints at latent femme fatale qualities while she also pursues a virtuous amateur detective crusade, and while we’re being spoon-fed seemingly contradictory character traits—hey, people are complex, y’know—the parts don’t fit together all that successfully. And, as Emily’s past comes more to light, it becomes apparent the film already has somewhat of a femme fatale character (and Lively, unfortunately, isn’t as good at it as the film needs her to be).
Stuck somewhere between straight thriller, comic tale and over-the-top schlockfest, A Simple Favour has the wobbles as it enters a third act marked by shocking revelations and narrative twists that don’t feel earned by the film preceding them. Chances of the audience having checked out well before the credits roll are high—Gillian Flynn this ain’t.