More noise than signal

A Simple Favor

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

Anna Kendrick’s Stephanie Smothers cuts a lonely figure, devoted to raising her child after the death of her husband, filling her time with volunteering and recording her YouTube mommy blog series. I can’t recall off hand if her home has a white picket fence, but that’s very much the archetype she’s drawn from.

Meeting through their child’s friendship, Blake Lively’s Emily Nelson is a very different character – a PR executive at a fashion firm, she’s all sharp suits, sharp wits, sharp tongue and sharp gin and tonics. Are gin and tonics sharp? I don’t drink them. But it makes for a better sentence, so let’s go with that. While some observers think that Stephanie is being used as an unpaid nanny service, she seems happy with the attention and trust Emily shows her, so who are we to judge?

Things kick off in earnest when Emily asks Stephanie to look after her kid for a few days while she attends to a work matter, her husband Sean (Henry Golding) having been called to London to care for a sick family member. Trouble is, she doesn’t return, prompting an investigation that will unravel the past lives and characters of both Emily and Stephanie.

Comparisons with Gone Girl are inevitable and entirely justified, as this treads a very similar path and similar mix of multi-twist thriller and dark comedy. A Simple Favor, as perhaps you’d expect from this cast and director Paul Feig seems to be weighted more in favour of the comedy. Well, it seems to be, but especially as it heads into the last hour or so when revelations come thicker, faster, and ever increasingly far-fetched, it seems like they’ve forgotten to put any actual comedy in. Perhaps the attempt was to rely on the inherent situational daftness of the plot to provide a few metalaughs, but it doesn’t work all that well.

By the end, it’s more of a series of madlibs than a narrative, all the more disappointing after a first half that’s intriguing and often pretty funny indeed, with some highly commendable dialogue. The longer it goes, the more it lost me, I’m afraid to say, and in the end it’s squandering the promise and the hard work of a talented cast and production team I have no other issue with, bar the script. Sadly, that’s quite the major issue.

While my attention wandered all over the place by the end, there’s enough good work done in the opening stretch to allow me to give it a guarded recommendation when it appears in your catch-up service of choice, but it saddens me that I can’t be as enthusiastic about it as I would have been if you’d asked me halfway though.