If you’re following director Paul Feig’s hit-and-miss trajectory “A Simple Favor” was on schedule to be a good movie. Turns out it’s considerably more okay than good. There is just enough dark wit, plenty of snappy dialogue, and an entertaining off-beat tone that makes it fairly fun. But despite those strengths, Feig’s film still comes off as a needlessly abrasive Lifetime Original.
“A Simple Favor” would be a disaster if not for the chemistry between its two leads. Anna Kendrick plays a single mother named Stephanie whose nerdy quirks and can-do spirit doesn’t exactly ingratiate her to her son’s home room teacher and other parents. This role isn’t a stretch for Kendrick who basically plays this type of perky character in every movie she’s in. But to her credit she’s good at them.
Stephanie hits it off with the most unlikeliest of moms – Emily Nelson (played by Blake Lively). She’s a glamorous and overly crass diva who is married to hunky novelist Sean (Henry Golding in what is becoming a pretty routine role for him). Stephanie is quickly seduced by the boozy Emily’s high fashion, fancy home, and care-free attitude. Emily’s interest in Stephanie is harder to figure out and becomes even more of a puzzle once Emily up and vanishes.
From there the movie essentially turns into “Gone Girl” minus the suspense. Feig and writer Jessica Sharzer try to nurture a layer of mystery, but it’s hard to buy any of what they’re selling. You know pretty early that plenty of twists are on the way and the movie doesn’t do a great job of hiding them. And by the time you get to the ridiculous finale it feels like Feig is just throwing a bunch of endings against the wall and seeing which one sticks.
But again, the chemistry between Kendrick and Lively keeps the film afloat. Neither of their characters make much sense and their actions often leave you scratching your head. But both seem to be having a lot of fun. Minus her astonishingly poor judgement and glaring naïveté, Kendrick’s Stephanie adds the most levity especially when she’s shooting her video blog. Lively is often pointlessly racy, but she shows off a savagely fun personality.
But again, I end up right back in the same place. It’s an odd movie that’s all over the genre map yet it doesn’t firmly land anywhere. It certainly has its moments but I couldn’t help but think it could have worked better if it dove further into its zany black comedy. As it is, “A Simple Favor” doesn’t do enough with its two snappy lead performances and it loses its way the further it goes.
VERDICT : 2.5 STARS