A Simple Favor

Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick) is a pretty, perky single mother whose daily vlog gives practical advice to other moms. One day, while picking up her son, Miles (Joshua Satine), at school, she meets Emily (Blake Lively), an elegant and self-assured woman who charms her with the invite, “Mommy needs a drink,” which leads to “A Simple Favor.”

Laura's Review: B-

Single suburban mommy vlogger Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick) is so perky and perfect, she's got her own Greek chorus of mean moms (Andrew Rannells' Darren, Aparna Nancherla's Sona and Kelly McCormack's Kelly) commenting upon her every move. But their eye rolls turn into open mouths when Stephanie takes up with tough NYC fashion exec Emily (Blake Lively), a woman more interested in a very dry 2 p.m. martini than quality time with her kid. Stephanie is in awe over Em's job, clothes, stunning modern manse and incredibly good looking British husband Sean Townsend (Henry Golding, "Crazy Rich Asians"), but nothing is as it seems after Em asks her for "A Simple Favor." This is one of those movies whose set up promises a lot more than it eventually delivers, yet is still fun due to an Anna Kendrick unchained from the "Pitch Perfect" franchise and a simply delicious Lively. While Jessica Sharzer's ("Nerve") adaptation of Darcey Bell's 'Gone Girl' wannabe loses its snap in a mire of increasingly predictable twists and turns, "Bridesmaids" director Paul Feig misdirects our attention with his sunny production, a contrast of the homespun and the incredibly chic. Feig opens on a screen streaming Stephanie's vlog where she's alternating recipes for zucchini chocolate chip cookies with updates on her best friend Emily, now missing five days (keep your eye on her follower counter as the film progresses). She's meticulously neat and clean, wrapped in a white apron adorned with cats, her spotless kitchen accessorized with crafty pottery and her son Miles' (Joshua Satine) artwork. 'Secrets are like margarine,' she tells us, 'easy to spread and bad for the heart.' Flashing back just a matter of days, we see Stephanie meet her 'best friend' when Miles asks if he and Nicky (Ian Ho) can have a play date after school. Stephanie is tongue tied in Nicky's mom's fabulously fashionable and urbane presence. Emily tartly suggests she could go along with the idea if Stephanie would join her in a much needed drink and the nerdy do-gooder cannot resist the invitation. Emily sets to work swilling good gin (and damn, she makes a martini the same way I do, by swishing the vermouth around the glass, then dumping it!) and insisting Stephanie ditch her habit of apologizing for everything. Emily is also seemingly brutally honest, stating flatly that her lavish home is a money pit unsupported by the famous author she wed who hasn't written one word since (of course Stephanie read his book and loved it). It's only another martini session or two before Emily's got the more alcohol-susceptible Stephanie confessing her innermost secret, and it is an unsuspected doozy. Then one day, Emily calls Stephanie and tells her she's facing a deadline, Sean is in London and could Emily pick up Nicky from school. Stephanie's thrilled to perform any service for her marvelous friend, but when her clock starts edging past 10 p.m. and Emily hasn't returned any calls, a mystery is set into play that turns Stephanie and her vlog into mommy detective. A grateful and concerned Sean begins accepting more and more favors from his wife's best friend, setting tongues wagging and Detective Summervile (Bashir Salahuddin, "Snatched") asking questions. This is really about the time the movie begins to lose its mojo. Stephanie's initial sleuthing introduces some interesting new characters, like that of artist Diana Hyland (Linda Cardellini) who painted the in-your-face nude of Emily that so shocked Stephanie on her first visit. Rupert Friend is hilariously campy as Emily's boss Dennis Nylon, as is Kendrick reacting to his putdowns with Emily-advised behavior. But by the time we get to Sarah Baker as a Christian camp counselor and Jean Smart as Emily's mother, plot machinations overtake entertainment. The film's climactic ending switches course so many times it loses any semblance of credibility. Feig tips his hat to the Coen Brothers with a coda selling the film as a 'true story.' The film isn't a stretch for Kendrick, but she's so perfect for the role it's delightful watching her stammer her way into perilous drama, even if her character adopts Emily's boldness a bit too quickly. Lively has far less screen time, but really raises her game here with an assured performance unlike anything we've seen from her before. Costume designer Renee Ehrlich Kalfus has fun evolving Kendrick's wardrobe (as does Kendrick, especially when caught in Emily's designer duds) from sweet to sophisticated while Lively's style, apparently concocted by the actress herself, is a stand out, menswear with extreme accents. Emily advises Stephanie to give her drink of choice 'a nice big twist,' but the filmmakers have gone overboard, the twists overpowering the gin, but leaving us enough to get giddy on. Grade:

Robin's Review: B

After a couple of Emily’s signature martinis they become best friends forever - the reticent, always wanting to please Stephanie and the demanding, knows exactly what she wants Emily. Eager Stephanie, impressed by Emily’s high wattage lifestyle with her husband, Sean (Henry Golding), makes the innocent offer that, if needed, she would gladly pick up her new friend’s son, Nicky (Ian Ho), at school any time. Very soon, Emily takes her up on her offer. No problem, except the favors keep mounting. Then, Emily calls to ask for another favor and Stephanie, again, dutifully picks up Nicky at school and takes him home with her and Miles. The day draws on to night and no word comes from Emily. She calls her friend’s office and is told, curtly, that Emily has gone to Miami for a few days on business. More days later and still there is no word. Stephanie, frantic with worry, contacts Sean, in London, and he rushes home. The police are called, a missing person report filed and the waiting begins. Things are not going well in the investigation and no clues come up. Then, Nicky casually tells Sean and Stephanie that he saw his mommy at school. Things do not sit right with Stephanie and she begins her own investigation into her BFF’s mysterious disappearance. That is where I leave any further description. Find out for yourself what happens next. Director Paul Fieg, with scripter Jessica Sharzer, adapts Darcey Bell’s same-named 2017 novel and, while not “great cinema,” it is a solid mystery thriller with humor and many twists and turns. And, “A Simple Favor” is made better by its stars, Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively. Kendrick’s Stephanie is really a composite of many of the past pretty, perky performances she has given in so many other films. Here, though, she has Lively to play off of and the contrast in personalities between the two characters makes for a lot of chemistry. “A Simple Favor” could have been just an okay mystery but the cleverly woven dramedy and Kendrick and Lively make it better – and fun. Production is solid and you should pay special attention to the costume contrasts of the stars, especially Kendrick’s.