An undeniably intriguing dynamic between Kendrick and Lively is unable to save a movie plagued by baffling mixture of tone and an unsalvageable ending. Only buy the ticket if you’re a super-fan of the leads.
What Works: Lively’s beguiling performance, her chemistry with Kendrick, and the occasional subversion.
Blake Lively is this movie, through and through. As one of the leads and its primary antagonist, it is her charisma that intrigues the audience, ferrying them to the end.
She does this job admirably, her character exuding confidence, each line of dialogue dripping with subtle double-meaning. True to her character, it’s hard not to be entranced by Lively’s performance, even as you grow to hate her.
On the flipside is Anna Kendrick, whose performance is antithetical to Lively’s, creating the only dynamic in the movie that really works. Where Lively is cruel and sharp, Kendrick is soft and doting.
That probably sounds familiar – it’s an incredibly common dynamic in noir stories, let alone for women characters in general. A Simple Favor tries its best to subvert that trope, with the audience quickly learning that Kendrick is not the saint we think she is, while Lively is more fatale and less femme.
What Doesn’t: The incessant tone shifts, Goulding’s character, the stakes, characterizations, and ending.
Unfortunately, the chemistry between the two leads is not enough to save the movie.
The most glaring issue was the constant shifting between tones. Heavily dramatized French-style neo-noir moments hit hard, right until they were undercut by self-aware jokes. The first time this happened, it was jarring, but made some sense: A Simple Favor is clearly a satire, and it established that well.
But then the joke was repeated.
The self-awareness was seemingly forgotten halfway through, and suddenly the film became very serious, interjecting convoluted backstories and subplots.
By the time the conclusion comes around, none of the plot threads have achieved any sense of closure, and the jokes had taken the air completely out of the mystery.
Perhaps this could have been forgiven if the characters were sufficiently fleshed out. But there is no consistent characterization here. The characters bounce from one role to another, in whatever way is convenient at the moment.
Henry Goulding’s character is particularly empty. He has no obvious motivations or consistency, serving as whatever foil is needed in the moment: sex object, bad father, good father, clueless husband, etc.
A Simple Favor ends just as bafflingly. The conclusion is so convoluted and nonsensical that you throw up your hands halfway through in surrender. There’s no point in trying to follow it. You must simply wait until the confusingly toned title cards appear on screen, throwing your beliefs about how you were supposed to feel about any of these characters into question.
Beyond the Screen: Maybe the real issue here was marketing.
I admit; this could all be an issue of expectation. The trailers for A Simple Favor painted it as a Gone Girl-esque thriller, full of intrigue, great outfits, and the strange duality of Kendrick vs. Lively.
And that’s just not what it was. It’s a satire, or at least it tries to be. Or maybe it thinks it is. It’s really never clear.
If the intention of A Simple Favor is to satirize French style romance noir stories, in both their often ridiculous tone and far too complex plots, then mission accomplished I suppose.
But if that is true, then A Simple Favor has pulled an Icarus, and flew a little too close to the sun.
“A SIMPLE FAVOR, a stylish post-modern film noir directed by Paul Feig, centers around Stephanie (Anna Kendrick), a mommy blogger who seeks to uncover the truth behind her best friend Emily’s (Blake Lively) sudden disappearance from their small town. Stephanie is joined by Emily’s husband Sean (Henry Golding) in this thriller filled with twists and betrayals, secrets and revelations, love and loyalty, murder and revenge.” -Rotten Tomatoes