A Simple Favor Review: Feig's Streak of Cross-Genre Comedies Continue
R: Sexual content and language throughout, some graphic nude images, drug use and violence
Lionsgate, Feigco Entertainment
1 Hr and 57 Minutes
Dir: Paul Feig | Writer: Jessica Sharzer
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding, Andrew Rannells, Kelly McCormack, Aparna Nancherla, Rupert Friend, Eric Johnson, Linda Cardellini, Jean Smart, Bashir Salahuddin
“A Simple Favor” centers around Stephanie (Anna Kendrick), a mommy blogger who is determined to uncover the truth behind her best friend Emily's (Blake Lively) sudden disappearance from their small town. Emily's husband, Sean (Henry Golding) joins her in this thriller including betrayals, reversals, a dead body, and the revolving question of who is duping who with love, loyalty, murder and revenge.
In the trailer, it is boasted that “A Simple Favor” is the darker side of Paul Feig who is primarily known for his comedies such as “Bridesmaids”, “Spy”, and “Ghostbusters”. For the most part… it is. This is a Paul Feig movie. Of course it's going to be funny.
He’s one of the only comedic directors who knows how to get natural humor out of his actors. “A Simple Favor” may look like a sleek and sexy mystery, but at its core it is a comedy. It is integrated to add levity to this dark mystery. It’s as if Feig saw “Gone Girl” and said, “This is too serious. Let’s liven this up.” and we got “A Simple Favor” out of it. The movie is funny and the jokes are often smart and clever. The movie is rated R, but it's more for its content than the humor. When it comes to a lot of R-rated comedies as of recent, the humor heavily relies more on shock value to be funny than actual genuine lines of dialogue. That is not the case here. Most of the jokes are stringed from the characters’ personalities and their interactions with each other.
Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick have an amazing chemistry with each other because their characters are significantly different together. Stephanie (Kendrick) is a nerdy, socially awkward, mommy blogger that nobody likes because she’s such a domesticated mom. Emily is Blair Waldorf from “Gossip Girl” if she turned out to be a classy business woman mixed with Ryan Reynold’s sense of humor. She is bold, confident, mysterious, and ever so blunt in the most honest ways. I can see why Lively and Reynolds are together because I envision this being their dynamic at home.
But, when it comes to Kendrick and Lively, it’s similar to the dynamic Melissa McCarthy and Rose Byrne had in Feig’s “Spy”. They’re characterized in the same sense where this sheltered, fish-out-of-water woman has her safe space of a world turned upside down when she meets this powerful woman whose boldness influence her actions. So, when situations get dirty, you gotta play as well. As the film progresses we see Stephanie grow as a character and become more in control of herself while everything is getting out of control. It's like if a perky mommy vlogger was dropped into a “Gone Girl”-style mystery and the story takes its own bold liberties with its storytelling.
The film is not written by Feig, but it embodies most of the same narrative aspects as his other films. The screenwriter here is Jessica Sharzer who wrote episodes of “American Horror Story” and the movie “Nerve” so she’s no stranger to thrilling mystery projects. While this is a comedy, “A Simple Favor” is still a mystery movie that manages to have never-ending twists and turns to keep you guessing as the story progresses. Even if you can predict future story elements, you have to appreciate how well it is set up. When it comes to mystery films, some elements are thrown in as twists and most of the time they make no sense and don’t have a natural reveal. Here, Sharzer adds clues and hints at the beginning that pay off later in the movie, and they even play as character development for Stephanie. The way the story is formatted is also pretty neat. The movie is formatted the same way as “Eighth Grade” where Stephanie is making videos that become integrated as a bridge as we enter a new chapter in the story.
Besides Lively and Kendrick being the leads, you also have Henry Golding in the mix (who I swear is currently having the time of his life thanks to the highly successful and universally acclaimed “Crazy Rich Asians”). God, this guy is a great up and coming actor who has a lovely personality and I just enjoy seeing his face. I said this in my “Crazy Rich Asians” review and I’ll say it here, Golding reminds me of a young Hugh Grant who is endearingly charming. Whatever he says sounds so believable and you’re swept up by him because of that accent and his calm demeanor. They do end up treating him like the human punching bag as the movie goes on as if he was the Meg Griffin of the story, but whatever.
Yes, Paul Feig is known as a comedy director, but oddly enough he’s the only one in Hollywood (that I can think of at the moment) who exhibits range with each project he tackles. While each project he takes is comedic at heart, there is another genre meshed in that is well-balanced with the comedy. I keep mentioning “Spy”, but that is one of my favorite comedies of all time and one of the reasons was because it also worked as an exciting action movie that was violent and badass while being a solid comedy. “A Simple Favor” is right up there with “Spy” in the vein of being a great comedy that stands on its own while still being a mystery. They are both equally cohesive and balance the genres they’re playing with. It’s not too funny where it can be classified as just a comedy, and it’s thrilling enough to still be classified as a mystery. You can almost see the metaphorical hyphen on screen asking you to call this a mystery-comedy and it works! Because of this, I want to see Feig keep doing different genres in the midst of making a solid comedy. He’s done action-comedy, he did mystery-comedy. Now I want horror-comedy.
Like many Paul Feig movies (okay… all of them), “A Simple Favor” overstays its welcome. Every Feig movie borders on 2 hours of running time and there are several moments where it lags and feels a bit dull. There are moments where the humor falls flat because of expected lines, over-exaggerated dialogue, and ad-libbed lines delivered by side characters who are all comedic actors.
Linda Cardellini is in this movie and I fanboyed the shit out of myself when she appeared on screen. Why?! Well, while Feig is the director of many comedies such as “Bridesmaids” and “Spy”, remember he created this cult classic series that had people had clamoring for a return before “Firefly” was even aired:
I mean, this is the “Freaks and Geeks” reunion I wanted and I briefly received it. I am completely satisfied… for now.
Incredibly well written, wonderfully helmed with sleek and stylish direction, and exciting performances by Kendrick, Lively, and Golding, “A Simple Favor” is an enormously fun mystery-comedy that is anything but simple.
Rating: 4.5/5 | 91%
Super Scene: Emily’s Master Plan.