Directed by: Paul Feig
Written by: Jessica Sharzer, Darcey Bell
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding, Eric Johnson, Jean Smart, Sarah Baker
Runtime: 116 min
A stylish post-modern film noir, directed by Paul Feig, centers around Stephanie (Anna Kendrick), a mommy blogger who seeks to uncover the truth behind her best friend Emily's (Blake Lively) sudden disappearance from their small town.
Stephanie is joined by Emily's husband Sean (Henry Golding) in this thriller filled with twists and betrayals, secrets and revelations, love and loyalty, murder and revenge.
Paul Feig is known by his comedic vein, same goes for Anna Kendrick. Blake Lively has performed in several genres, so this mix of people is at least odd considering this is supposed to be a mystery-suspense flick. Nevertheless, Feig and his writers are able to come up with a truly intriguing and captivating story, accompanied by a fantastic cast who deliver some great performances.
Anna Kendrick is brilliant as Stephanie. As the movie goes by, she changes from a character-type performance into something outside her comfort zone. She perfectly handles it and delivers an amazing display, being very expressive and charming. Her character, like any other one in this film, gets an excellent script with extensive development. Despite some traits of her personality unjustifiedly changing towards the end of the movie, Stephanie is still a quite well-written character and with a very mysterious past.
Not less enigmatic is Emily, Blake Lively's character. She also has a dark past, and she always seems to be hiding something. Extremely secretive and protective of her whereabouts, she lends the most perplexing breadcrumbs of the film. However, I have the same minor issue with her script that I have with Stephanie's. Some personality characteristics and some plot points regarding her past are either left unjustified, partly explained or described in a bit of a farfetched way.
Lively's performance, however, is outstanding. I always liked her more than most people, and I think she is an underrated actress. Some people think she only has opportunities because she is married to Ryan Reynolds but she is exceptionally talented, and she deserves some significant roles soon. Henry Golding plays Lively's husband, Sean, and he also delivers a compelling performance. His character also comes into play and produces a triangle of suspicions of who's guilty in all of this.
Story-wise, the synopsis given by Lionsgate doesn't lie. It has a ton of twists and turns, big or small, they are all over the place. Some are predictable, some are a surprise, but I never received that mind-blowing twist that I was kind of expecting. If a movie promises you a lot of misleading details and puzzling clues, I want to experience a big moment of "wow, I didn't think of that"! Unfortunately, it ends in a slightly disappointing and even silly way.
Paul Feig nails the direction aspect. He demonstrates to know precisely what he wanted the film to be, how the story would unveil itself and which moment of the runtime was the most appropriate to deliver a particular twist. With excellent control of suspenseful dialogues and seamless editing, he only fails in balancing the mix of tones. Some lines of comedy are thrown in there, and none of them worked for me. When the mystery starts unraveling, that's when the movie gets entertaining and genuinely captivating.
Feig flawlessly controls the story's pacing. A purposefully slow first act that serves to set up the main characters, followed by a constantly entertaining rhythm which builds up the tension and suspense throughout the rest of the runtime. I never felt bored, and my brain kept thinking of possible endings, which is something I have to congratulate the film on. Nowadays, everyone expects the audience to just sit and experience the brainless spectacle. This one needs you to think to understand every minor decision that the characters do.
In the end, A Simple Favor is one of this year's surprises. With an odd combination of director and cast, Paul Feig is able to deliver a remarkable direction, with remarkable control of the movie's pacing and mysteriousness. Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively brilliantly lead a very intriguing story, filled with well-written yet disappointingly predictable twists. Unfortunately, some plot points and character developments are unjustified or unlikely to occur, which also unbalances some of the film's tone.