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Review: A Simple Favour – “Wickedly silly”

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The trailer for A Simple Favour makes Paul Feig’s latest film look like a modern thriller in the Gone Girl vein. But it isn’t that. It’s a wickedly silly, comedic riff on the genre that works mainly
because of the chemistry between lead actors Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively.

The film is set in a small, middle-class Connecticut town, and based on the novel by Darcey Bell, where two women strike up an unlikely alliance in the playground. It’s all fun and games until one of them goes missing. Actually, that’s when the fun and games really kick off.

At first glance, single mum Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick) is more wholesome than a fresh batch of gluten free muffin. She volunteers for every possible school activity and Vlogs from her kitchen. Plenty of followers, not many real-life friends. Her son, Miles has no such trouble making pals. An impromptu playdate request from Miles and his friend Nicky introduces us to Emily Nelson (Blake Lively), walking through the rain in a sharp pinstripe suit and giving zero f***ks (though dropping a fair few f-bombs along the way.)

City PR Emily sashays through her huge, modernist house to 60s French pop, admiring a huge nude portrait of herself and makes strong martinis while Stephanie tries to act cool despite having an “oopsy” jar for swears and going on a tipsy ramble when Emily’s author husband Sean (Henry Golding from this month’s box office smash Crazy Rich Asians) arrives.

The simple favour in question, as Stephanie explains in a glum Vlog post, Emily asked her new “best friend” to pick her son up from school and hasn’t been seen or heard from in days. “Secrets are like margarine — easy to spread, bad for the heart.” says Stephanie. Indeed, and everyone seems to have one.

After the seeds have been sown for the central mystery the plot becomes a runaway train. Another mystery is how these women became close in the first place, which Feig teases out in flashbacks, when we see that neither women is exactly as she seems.

There are more twists and turns than a rollercoaster, and some have all the subtlety of a Point Horror novel, but this is a film that deals in broad strokes, like a dafter Ira Levin film. However, it’s a very funny film and you can almost feel Paul Feig and writer Jessica Sharzer winking at us in a “see what we did there?” way that is fun to watch unravel.

While the hook is very much the Emily/Stephanie two-hander, there are some amusing supporting performances by Andrew Rannells and Aparna Nancherla as snarky parents.

A Simple Favour lacks the bite of other modern mysteries like Search Party which walks the tension/comedy line with more sophistication, but it’s a highly entertaining ride.

A Simple Favour is out in the UK on 20th September 2018.

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