[Screen It]

"A SIMPLE FAVOR"
(2018) (Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Thriller/Black Comedy: A woman tries to figure out the truth behind her new best friend's unexpected disappearance.
PLOT:
Stephanie Smothers (ANNA KENDRICK) is a single mom to young Miles (JOSHUA SATINE) and is somewhat mocked by other parents for her energy and participation in school functions and for her video blog about all things homemaking. While they couldn't be more different, she finds a friend of sorts in the alluring Emily Nelson (BLAKE LIVELY), a stylishly attractive director of PR for a fashion designer, wife to one-time author turned English professor Sean Townsend (HENRY GOLDING) and mom to young Nicky (IAN HO).

The two women end up hitting it off over drinks and become instant friends, although Stephanie probably believes in that description more than Emily who bluntly speaks her mind. That includes telling the homemaker that she doesn't want a friend like her, but nonetheless has no problem asking Stephanie to watch Nicky when she's busy. Stephanie is happy to help, including when Emily says she's headed to Miami for work, but then becomes concerned when Emily seemingly vanishes and doesn't answer any attempts at contacting her, all while Sean's been in another country caring for his mom.

As the police begin to investigate and learn that Sean took out a $4 million insurance policy on his wife right before her disappearance, Stephanie becomes increasingly suspicious about what's occurred and starts looking for clues to explain what's really happening.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Usually speaking from firsthand experience most parents try to tell their kids that bad interactions with other kids at school shouldn't weigh too heavily on their minds because things will eventually get better.

Beyond segueing to college that seems to weed out many of the jerks (as does time and them no longer having the need to be the alpha of the clique pack or otherwise establish themselves in the social pecking order), there's the fact that for a vast majority of picked-on kids they'll never have any reason to see their abusers again.

Of course, such rationale means nothing in the moment that seems like it will last forever, and the old adage of what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger doesn't help when all hope appears lost and the world and universe seem against you.

And then there's the fact that bullies and, for the ladies in some cases, "mean girls" still exist in the grown-up world, something we adults should just keep to ourselves and let the kids come to that realization on their own as they get older.

That post-high school mean girls angle fully comes into play in "A Simple Favor." Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively embody adult versions of the old high school scenario where one "girl" is cool and manipulative and the other is nerdy, needy of acceptance, and easily falls into the old "I'll be your friend until I no longer need you" trap.

As directed by Paul Feig ("Bridesmaids" and the female-centric remake of "Ghostbusters") -- who works from Jessica Sharzer adaptation of Darcey Bell's 2017 novel of the same name -- one could reasonably expect this to be an over-the-top comedy with strong female leads.

It is, but certainly not to the same degree and only occasionally even then as the comedy is definitely black and the film fairly quickly segues into a noirish "Gone Girl" sort of story when Emily (Lively) goes missing after asking Stephanie (Kendrick) to watch her kid (Ian Ho) while she heads out of town for business and her husband (Henry Golding) is otherwise occupied across the pond caring for his mother.

Throw in a stylish directorial flair (immediately evidenced in the fun, retro opening credits sequence), a great soundtrack featuring equally cool French tunes, and a number of twists and turns, and the stage would certainly seem set for an entertaining, if decidedly adult and R-rated time at the movies.

I can't really divulge much more about the story without giving away how things play out and ultimately come together. But I can say I enjoyed it more in the first half before all of those twisty turns started piling up in the second. For the most part, they work, but to me it sometimes felt as if Feig and Sharzer were trying too hard to be clever and were forcing too much into what's ultimately uncovered as Kendrick's character turns into a fairly adept, amateur sleuth.

At the same time, I didn't fully buy into the notion that she would latch onto the obvious "mean girl" to the point that she wouldn't be put off by such standoffish behavior, let alone launch that sort of an all encompassing investigation. And would do so while revealing and participating in behavior that might be interesting in terms of character flaws, but clearly doesn't make her truly sympathetic for the viewer. Instead, it gave me that "trying too hard" impression, something that might have been alleviated through other twists, turns and manipulation that could and likely should have been a bit more clever in their construction and deployment throughout the tale.

Nonetheless, enough of what's present works and is presented with such an uber stylish and entertaining veneer that I give "A Simple Favor" a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed September 6, 2018 / Posted September 14, 2018


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