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DVD REVIEW: ‘A Simple Favor’ offers a few good surprises

December 15, 2018

While it’s not quite the savviest thriller of the year, “A Simple Favor” does have moments that will make you glad you spent the night in.

Whisking into Warfield Elementary School like a woman too busy to mess with room parents, Blake Lively demands attention – and contempt – the minute her peers catch a glimpse.

One, though, moves in for a closer look and becomes fascinated by what she sees.

Lively’s Emily lives in a great house, has a hunky husband (Henry Golding) and a fast-paced career in the fashion world.

Stephanie (Anna Kendrick), meanwhile, is trying to make do with vlogs and volunteering. She’s immediately swept up – and pulled in. Emily asks her to watch her son, Stephanie agrees and, in short time, the businesswoman is nowhere to be found.

Did something happen to Emily? Or did she find the perfect exit?

In Paul Feig’s always intriguing comedy, it’s never obvious who’s zooming who. Stephanie gets vlog boosts just by mentioning the lost friend; Emily’s family gets a built-in babysitter.

Kendrick plays a perfect mom quite nicely, but it’s Lively’s hot mess that intrigues. Even when she’s absent she leaves an impression.

Because her husband, a failed writer, doesn’t know how to handle the situation, he lets Stephanie move in and help out. More transpires and, before we know it, there could be several suspects in the missing person’s case.

Dressed in plenty of Ralph Lauren-meets-male stripper suits, Lively has a height advantage over Kendrick and a lot of attitude. You want to hate her but you know you can’t.

Instead, like Stephanie, you want to learn more. Rather than wait until authorities sort this out, she goes on a hunt and finds Emily’s mom (played like Zsa Zsa Gabor by Jean Smart). She discovers a big secret and begins piecing together the puzzle.

While it’s impossible to guess the “Gaslight” meets “Diabolique” twists, “A Simple Favor” does make much of the homemaker vlog. Read the comments closely and you’ll discover it’s a way to parse the clues.

The Greek chorus of onlookers (including an oh-so-charming Andrew Rannells) helps keep the film on task, even when the taskmasters don’t.

Thirty minutes could have been chopped out of the film without losing much of anything. Kendrick can be quirkier than she needs to be but she fits the apron and runs with it.

Eventually, “A Simple Favor” grows into a big responsibility. But, as any philosopher knows, it’s journey that matters, not the destination.

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