I did not plan to write this review. Really, I went to go see this movie just to enjoy what looked like a Gone Girl ripoff thriller with some awesomely talented actors chewing scenery like they haven’t eaten in months. And I got that…kind of. In fact, what I got was probably one of the weirdest piece of satire that was both an entertaining thriller and a decently funny movie. But was it great? Well…
A Simple Favor follows single mom and blogger Stephanie, whose son befriends the son of the gorgeous and mysterious Emily, who appears to have everything. However, Emily soon asks Stephanie for “a simple favor” to look after her son while she handles a work emergency. But Emily doesn’t come back that night, or several nights after. Stephanie and Emily’s husband Sean are worried, but after a body is found, they move on pretty quickly…in bed. But then it turns out that not only is Emily still alive, but that there’s some dark secrets at play that will turn Stephanie from mommy blogger to detective.
Some genres are hard to mix with satire or parody, but with the right mix of actors, script, and director, you can pull it off. The number of horror comedies out there that have been successful is proof of that (looking at you, Cabin in the Woods). So the idea of making a thriller satire that is still suspenseful and engaging should also be possible, and yet given that comedy is the constant breaking of tension, it almost feels like no, no you couldn’t. And this film is a key example of why.
So let’s take the big finale as an example. Stephanie comes into Emily and Sean’s house upset and brandishing a gun. She screams about how the two of them tricked her in some sick game and now she’s going to kill them. She shoots Sean and then proceeds to freak out, and Emily confesses that she killed her twin sister in order to fake her death. Then Emily reveals that not only does she know the Sean and Stephanie planned this whole thing (the gun was a fake), but that she sent the cops that were supposed to come in after her confession to another person’s house. Cue scene of the cops breaking in to said person’s house as they are smoking weed, leading to a freakout.
See, you can’t just have a high-stakes moment undercut with a joke (and a bad one at that) and then hope that the scene will retain the same tension. By that point, you are very well aware that this scene doesn’t matter, which makes us less afraid. And instead of taking that lowering of defenses to do something surprising or interesting, they go with the safe ending where Emily goes to jail and good wins.
This happens throughout the film, and while there are some moments that are genuinely tense and dark, like when Emily drowns her twin or Stephanie reveals that she slept with her half-brother after their father’s death, more often than not, these moments only further confuse the narrative. There’s a running joke about how weak-willed Sean is, as he constantly has sex with Emily no matter how horribly she acts or how terrible she is, which just comes off annoying rather than funny. The other parents’ cattiness equally seems like an ill-fitting puzzle piece that gets constantly thrown in there for the sake of comedy.
Even if the plot is a tonally-weird mess, the rest of the production makes it worth the watch. The chemistry between Anna Kendrick as Stephanie and Blake Lively as Emily is superb, with the two giving us performances that continue to draw you in. Without these two, the film would totally fall apart, especially as they begin to encircle each other to try and take the other down. Stephanie and Emily both wear facades and the most interesting parts of their performances is watching them both slip away and reveal the ugliness beneath.
The child actors, aka Emily’s and Stephanie’s son, are pretty realistic, and don’t end up getting in the way of the plot. Henry Golding as Emily’s husband Sean is also pitch perfect, acting as the loving but weak husband who is essentially defenseless to the women in his life. It’s a fun turn for holding who played a similarly suave but empowered version of this character in Crazy Rich Asians.
The soundtrack is also gorgeous, with a ton of French pop and sultry tunes that puts you into the mood to commit a murder but, you know, in a Coco Chanel suit. It elevates the mood of the film, and plays such a pivotal role in holding the whole thing together that it’s hard to ignore. I haven’t been able to find an official OST for it, but I know I’m not the only person who would buy it in a heartbeat.
A Simple Favor has an aesthetic design that matches its rich score, with Emily’s house looking like a decadent, rich treasure trove of dark secrets while Stephanie’s home looks warm, inviting, but also a little bit haunted. The costuming is gorgeous, especially all the amazing suit Blake Lively wears. The cinematography is sharp, and plays with the differences between comedy and suspense better than the story does.
If you’re looking for a fun movie that’ll have you captivated, A Simple Favor is your jam, but don’t go in expecting a Gone Girl-esque rollercoaster ride of thrills and chills.
A Simple Favor comes off like an experiment in just how far you can push the barrier between comedy and suspense, and it turns out that it’s not that far. Still, the performances, the music, and the design all but make up for the strange tone, making this film a treat, just not in the way you’d think.