A Simple Favor October 1, 2018
1 Hr., 59 Mins.
uring the second cycle of America's Next Top Model (2004), host Tyra Banks, clad in cadet blue, offers guidance to a wisdom-deprived horde of contestants. “Most modeling is kind of acting like a hoe but making it fashion,” she says. Then, she demonstrates. In one case, acting like a hoe entails grabbing your chest, with your head inclined backward in orgasmic ecstasy. The “making it fashion” part involves moving inward, smizing, of course — with your eyes kohled and hungry — and provocatively covering
your bosom as if it were 1956, you’re Brigitte Bardot, and you’re starring in a sorta-censored-but-not-really Roger Vadim erotodrama. Again, girls: “hoe [seductively lowering a French-tipped fingernail in your mouth] but make it fashion [angling your hand, almost intellectually, while feigning froideur]."
Over and over again while watching A Simple Favor, a new comedic thriller from Paul Feig, I thought of Banks’ enduring mantra. Not because the movie is about acting like a hoe and making it fashionable, but because of the way in which the erstwhile runway great says those five words. In A Simple Favor’s case, I kept thinking of new slogans pertaining to the film, in Banks’ voice. Gone Girl, but make it quirky. Suburban satire, but make it witless. Star Anna Kendrick, but make it about Blake Lively. Etc, etc.
A Simple Favor is not a good movie, but there are many good things about it. Blake Lively’s power suits. Blake Lively’s cuff-links. Blake Lively’s salt-water-misted mermaid hair. Blake Lively making a martini while telling you how much the one you just made sucked. Blake Lively demanding you delete that photo you just took of her now. Blake Lively keeping an eye-gouging painting of Blake Lively in her money pit of a suburban mansion. Blake Lively stirring up shit with Phyllis Dietrichson-esque aplomb. Blake Lively —
Enough about Blake Lively, for a few more paragraphs, at least. Let’s move on to what isn’t good about A Simple Favor: its story, or, more accurately, the execution of it. In the film, Kendrick stars as a widowed single mom named Stephanie. As the film opens, the latter, a prudish PTA type who also runs a twee, well-viewed mommy vlog, informs us that her best friend, Emily (Lively), has gone missing. A few days ago, Stephanie agreed to watch her pal’s son, Nicky (Ian Ho), for a couple of hours after school. Trouble is, Emily never returned.
The film jumps backward a handful of months, to when Stephanie and Emily meet for the first time. We promenade through scene after scene detailing their friendship, which mostly involves Emily being sexy, well-dressed, mysterious, and unpredictably cruel, with Stephanie both one-sidedly giving herself over to the enigmatic blonde and following her around all puppy-dog-like because she thinks this new-lady-in-town is so goshdarn cool.
When Emily goes missing, Stephanie’s world is rocked: the former was her only friend in this claustrophobic suburb. Sean (Henry Golding), Emily’s quondam writer husband, isn’t too worried: Emily, apparently fickle, does this sort of thing all the time. But Stephanie’s bothered. Provoked, she decides to put on her amateur detective hat to find out what’s really going on. Because does she actually know know Emily? Because why not? Stephanie proves that she has more skill than your average investigating dilettante. The way the film unravels is so turbulent that it
ultimately doesn’t matter all that much, though.
A Simple Favor is an adaptation of a 2017 novel by the debuting writer Darcey Bell, unread by me. While I watched the movie, which eventually exhausted me with its forced labyrinthine antics, it made sense why the source material was popular. While this story is convoluted and variably offbeat, I recurrently thought about how much better the plot would read on the page, where rug-pulling twists are enticing and far-out developments in the storyline are actually attractive. (Notice that almost all of the works of obsessive mystery writers like Agatha Christie and James Patterson, while dependably making for terrific beach reads, almost never serve as the basis for engaging movies.)
A Simple Favor is a misstep. The screenwriter, Jessica Sharzer, forsakes the potential for camp for a kind of excruciating forced quirkiness; the movie consistently seems primed for a laugh but never gets to the punchline. Feig, though directing stylishly, is out of his element: his specialty is ribald comedy, and this is a scattershot faux-caper. Lively is a revelation, though: This character is bonkers — an epitome of the oracular possible villainess — and glamorous to a cartoonish degree. Lively chomps on the part like a newly turned vampiress feasting on a baby cougar. Nothing else in A Simple Favor, though, is quite so singular. C