‘A Simple Favor’ is a film with an identity crisis
Director Paul Keig (“Bridesmaids,” “Spy,” “The Heat”) is saddled with directing “A Simple Favor,” a whodunit, or more exactly WHYdunit, that seems to have been written in a college-level mystery writing class.
Based on a book by first-time novelist Darcey Bell, the movie does not translate well, or the book may also be somewhat of a mess also.
This movie can’t decide if it wants to play it light and comedic or if it wants to go dark and mysterious. So it splits the difference. Like if you can’t choose between meatloaf or ice cream for dinner, so you end up with ground beef a la mode ...
It doesn’t help that the main actress could have been played by a meeker star, something along the lines of a ... well, ANYBODY else!
Anna Kendrick (“Pitch Perfect” franchise, “Into the Woods,” “Twilight Saga”) as Stephanie Smothers, was too distracting from the start.
I love Kendrick, and if she had been directed to play her more mousey style, it may have worked, but the Powers That Be took a star whose bread-and-butter was playing a shy, less-than-confident milquetoast and made her into a flighty, overconfident aggressive type.
On the other hand, Blake Lively (“Gossip Girl,” “The Age of Adaline,” “The Town”) as Emily Nelson played exactly to type, performing the classic witch, with all of the venom that the role entails.
Up until a certain point in the movie she could have even the hero in our story, even with her stab-you-inthe-back smile that paid homage to the old small screen super sagas like “Dallas” and “Knots Landing.”
The pawn in the middle, husband Sean Nelson, played by Henry Golding (“Crazy Rich Asians”) is so allusive throughout the movie, you never know if he is in on the deceptions or not.
He plays the best role, and does well with it, but is overshadowed by two sexy ladies
who contrast nicely, but never seem to work well together.
“A Simple Favor” is pretty much a three-person show, although smaller characters do flow through in abundance. Two of the more notable are Bashir Salahuddin (“Glow,” “Looking,” “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon”) as a jolly detective named Summerville and Rupert Friend (“Hitman: Agent 47,” “The Young Victoria,” “The Death of Stalin”) as pompous-to-themax boss Dennis Nylon.
Both stand out to what degree that they can, considering that this plot is weak and boring, and their roles are small and not very interesting.
This movie wants to show a smooth mystery set in an upper middle-class world, but with a touch more class. It ends up as a semi-humorous romp through two separate worlds (one high class and fast-paced, the other middle class with family obligations), never “ha-ha” funny, but mostly a Blake Lively Smirk funny.
“A Simple Favor” does not really cover this movie’s plot, but I don’t really know what could. Perhaps “The Soccer Mom’s Dilemma.” This is best described as Lively in her element and Kendrick in what could have been hers, if she was playing her usual character.
Billy Summers is a freelance photographer who also reviews films for the Putnam Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.