By Cody Curtis, Staff Writer
Sex, murder, and a mystery. Themes prevalent in many adult investigative films, especially this weekend’s newest female-led picture, A Simple Favor. For a time film noir and detective stories seemed to have disappeared from the cinema. Up until the release of Gone Girl (2014), The Nice Guys (2016), and now Paul Feig’s newest sex-driven story, it almost seemed as though it would stay that way. Thankfully Feig’s newest creation not only manages to be intensely suspenseful, but surprisingly original.
Anna Kendrick stars as Stephanie Smothers, a recently widowed mother, blogger and energetic volunteer at her son’s elementary school. One day after school she is introduced to Emily Nelson (portrayed brilliantly by Blake Lively) and her life is never the same. Stephanie starts spending time with Emily and the two women form a friendship that, while not healthy, crafts a dynamic which is impossible to turn away from. Shortly after meeting Emily’s burnt out husband Sean, Stephanie discovers Emily has vanished without a trace, leaving her in charge of her son . Immediately, Stephanie starts searching for what has happened to her new best friend, discovering the darker side of Emily along the way, while the audience simultaneously discovers the darker side of Paul Feig’s mind.
While there are many enjoyable aspects of A Simple Favor, the greatest strengths this movie has to offer are the performances by Kendrick and Lively. These two women are magnetic; both showing work that they have not done before. Kendrick’s Stephanie is a highly motivated, energetic and happy individual, while Lively’s Emily is a pessimistic, down to earth alcoholic with a hatred towards the rest of the world. This contrast in personalities is beautiful to watch unfold and while Kendrick gave it her all, Lively showcases the best performance of her entire career.
Without a doubt, this is a different path for director Paul Feig. Mostly having dabbled in comedies such as Bridesmaids and Spy, it would be understandable for someone to enter the movie theater with raised eyebrows. After the first 30 to 45 minutes, however, I can say Feig has mastered subduing the silliness of his other creations for a story with some weight. Comedic bits are spread throughout for sure and when they land, they land with flying colors. Especially in one particular scene, where Emily and Stephanie are discussing certain parts of their personal character. Thankfully, the comedy does not overpower the drama, so the power of the story can hit as hard as is necessary.
From the very opening shot of the movie, it is apparent that A Simple Favor has taken influence from French filmmaking. There is a very open look at sexuality and the human body throughout the run time. The sex is not overbearing and does feel as though it needs to be included. The music, the themes of friendship, love, sex, mystery and even the color palette feel very passionate and very sensual in nature. This aspect most certainly helps push the film forward. If there is no dialogue happening, there is beautiful imagery, if there is no beautiful imagery, there is a mystery to be solved. It’s a game, a very sexy shadowy game.
Every film has problems and that is no more apparent, then the end of this beautiful brand of storytelling. Everything leading to the end of this exploration in female investigation seemed to be falling into place perfectly, until the last ten minutes. The final portion of this film completely switches tones. This small bit felt as though it was ripped straight out of a Saturday Night Live comedy sketch and none of it landed. this is a complete disappointment because everything from the performances to the direction, to the clever script created by Jessica Sharzer and Darcey Bell, was above exceptional.
A Simple Favor, even with its missteps, is a pure neo-noir triumph. Feig, Kendrick and Lively, have collaborated to bring audiences something that is not only enjoyable and entertaining but will have you reflecting on your own friendships as well. This is a film that anyone who enjoys great movies should see. As far as a modern investigation film to come out this decade, A Simple Favor is one of the best.