REVIEW: ‘A Simple Favor’: A solid murder-mystery that knows it’s smarter than you

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movie poster A Simple Favor

Cameron Hoover

“A Simple Favor,” director Paul Feig’s latest film, is an exceptionally interesting whodunnit with a tinge of dark comedy that is subversive the whole way through, even if it doesn’t quite want you to know it.

The film opens with Stephanie (Anna Kendrick), a high-strung “mommy blogger” with a penchant for zucchini cookies and swear jars. Stephanie’s life turns on its head when she meets Emily Nelson (Blake Lively), the mother of one of her son’s classmates. Emily is mysterious, powerful and captivating, three adjectives that definitely don’t describe Stephanie.

But, as the cliché goes, opposites attract, and the two become self-described “best friends,” sharing with each other their deepest, darkest secrets. Everything changes when Emily disappears. Along with Emily’s husband, Sean (Henry Golding), Stephanie embarks on a winding quest to find the answers as to why her best friend disappeared.

That’s really the only plot description that can possibly be given without spoiling one of the movie’s copious twists. It’s generally not expected to get jerked around through plot twists by the guy who directed the 2016 reboot of “Ghostbusters” and “Bridesmaids,” but Feig does a commendable job tugging the viewer through the ringer.

Loosely based on the novel of the same name by Darcey Bell, the film’s script, written for the screen by Feig and Jessica Sharzer, is unexpectedly fresh despite the film’s “Gone Girl”-esque plot line. The writing is commendable for the first hour and a half of the movie, but the ending is a little disappointing.

Preferably, caper films like these leave bread crumbs for the viewer to pick up along the way so the characters and the audience can solve the mystery together. This film does that, kind of. There are still many scenes that take place during the 15-minute grand reveal finale that seem like they appeared out of thin air to tie the loose ends up.

Lively is absolutely the standout of this film, with some assistance from costumers Renee Ehrlich Kalfus, Kathleen Meade and Soo Luen Tom. Though she’s given acceptable performances in flicks like “The Shallows,” Lively’s turn in “A Simple Favor” is something new. She’s magnetic as the chic enigma, the puzzle the audience has to solve.

Lively steals the show, but Kendrick and Golding are exceptional in their roles too, even if they may tread some familiar beats. Kendrick is relatable and awkward with a sassy side, and Golding is really, really attractive but can turn on the emotion when it’s needed.

Also, be on the lookout for Linda Cardellini here. I knew she was in it, and I still didn’t realize it was her until after the movie was over.

“A Simple Favor” is a great entry into Feig’s filmography, even if it treads a familiar path in general plot description and holds its cards a little too close to the chest. There’s more than just the generalities, and it’s Feig’s attention to detail that sets the ending up, even if he doesn’t quite stick the landing.

 Cameron Hoover is the managing editor. Contact him at [email protected]