Much like Emily Nelson’s favourite martini, A Simple Favour is cool, stylish and infused with a twist of lemon that gives the film a biting edge. In a word, this near two-hour long dark comedy mystery thriller can best be described as a ride, delivering a dark plot, disturbing twists and cruel characters with such glee that it’s almost impossible not to be caught up in the sheer noir melodrama of it all. And, of course, it helps that the film is held together by the charming and committed performances from the two female leads, Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick.
As a mommy vlogger addressing her few (at first) followers, Stephanie (Kendrick) is our entry point, explaining that her best friend Emily (Lively) has gone missing after asking Stephanie to do her the “simple favour” of picking up her son Nicky from school. Through a prolonged flashback, we see how these two wildly different women meet, having been brought together by their kids, and watch as they become friends and share secrets over afternoon cocktails. But what starts as a female friendship comedy with a mystery undertone quickly descends into a much darker, Gone Girl-esque affair as Emily goes missing, and Stephanie is determined to solve her friend’s disappearance by digging deeper into uncovering the secrets that Emily has kept hidden from everyone over the years.
We already know from his previous films, like Bridesmaids and The Heat, that director Paul Feig is good at exploring the relationships between women in his films, and he clearly has fun here with the noir twist on the familiar set-up. Lively plays Emily as a bold, confident and no-nonsense woman. She has an important job, a penchant for a drink and is someone who delights in uncovering secrets and using them to her advantage. Stephanie, on the other hand, is played with sheer earnestness on Kendrick’s part as a lonely, anxious and over-achieving people pleaser who’s just happy to have found someone to connect with.Their friendship is obviously unequal, filled with sadistic undertones on Emily’s part and unguarded honesty on Stephanie’s. Yet part of what makes this relationship such an interesting one is watching it grow and change over the course of the film the more that Stephanie uncovers – to the point where Stephanie becomes just as passive aggressive, manipulative and blasé towards Emily as she once was to her, and can more than hold her own with her enigmatic best friend come the film’s final showpiece.
Underscored by a soundtrack of ‘60s-sounding French pop, A Simple Favour remains endlessly entertaining even as it rolls through all of its increasingly convoluted and less and less believable twists and turns. Its intriguing opening and action-packed rollercoaster of an ending more than makes up for the slightly drawn-out middle section. The film is tied expertly together with an intelligent script, courtesy of American Horror Story: Coven writer Jessica Sharzer, and while the film’s secondary cast is rounded out with stellar performances – from Crazy Rich Asians’ Henry Golding as Emily’s self-confessed spell-bound husband Sean and the deliciously acerbic Andrew Rannells as fellow parent and leader of the sly PTA clique Darren, in particular – this is very much Lively and Kendrick’s show, just as it should be.
Feig plays a delicate juggling act with this film and he largely handles it well by keeping it just the right side of ridiculous, ensuring that it’s just dark enough to be considered a mystery, just twisted enough to serve as a thriller, and just funny enough to keep the whole thing light and entertaining, rather than dwelling in its darkness. It may not be the most compelling piece of cinema, but A Simple Favour is a slick and chic affair that’s delightfully pulpy and knows it, resulting in a noir that ticks all the boxes and still manages to be a wicked amount of fun.
A Simple Favour is out on Blu-ray and DVD from 21 January, 2019