A SIMPLE FAVOR
(director: Paul Feig; screenwriters: novel by Darcey Bell/Jessica Sharzer; cinematographer: John Schwartzman; editor: Brent White; music: Theodore Shapiro; cast: Anna Kendrick (Stephanie Smothers), Blake Lively (Emily Nelson), Henry Golding (Sean Townsend), Andrew Rannells (Darren), Linda Cardellini (Diana Hyland), Jean Smart (Margaret McLanden), Rupert Friend (Dennis Nylon), Eric Johnson (Davis), Dustin Milligan (Chris), Bashir Salahuddin (Detective Summervile), Joshua Satine (Miles Smothers), Ian Ho (Nicky Nelson), Sarah Baker (Maryanne Chelkowsky), Sugenja Sri (receptionist), Gia Sandhu (Valerie); Runtime: 116; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Paul Feig, Jessie Henderson; Lionsgate; 2018)
“When it goes fully into a Hitchcock crime drama it loses a bit of the shine from its first act of raunchy comedy.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids”/”Spy”) directs with black comedy awareness this slick, campy, and comical offbeat neo-noir thriller. Jessica Sharzer smartly adapts it from the novel by Darcey Bell when she dishes out the comedy but stubs her toes switching genres into a thriller. It’s filled with Serge Gainsbourg pop songs and lewd comedy and themes of such sordid things as incest, threesomes, adultery and a murder mystery. The narrative centers around the naive Connecticut suburbanite and lonely widower, single helicopter mom, the diminutive and plain looking Target shopper website blogger Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick). She seeks to find out in her blog about the sudden disappearance of her new best friend, the mansion-dwelling power publicist for a Manhattan fashion house–the stiletto-clad, sexy and statuesque at 5’10” Emily (Blake Lively). Through her blog, we learn that Emily asked her over to her mansion-home for a martini and while there her hunky best-selling author from 10 years ago and now local college teacher hubby Sean (Henry Golding) comes home kissing her freely. Emily’s purpose for the invite was to ask her neighbor to do her a simple favor and pick-up after school her first-grade son Nicky (Ian Ho), a classmate of her son Miles (Joshua Satine). After that visit Emily was missing for a few days. Trying to track her down, Stephanie calls Sean in London where he’s visiting his mom nursing a broken hip. When Sean returns, the police are called. As some time goes by Emily’s body is found drowned at the bottom of a lake in Michigan. From Stephanie’s blog investigation, we learn that Emily was a bully, a drunk and only concerned about herself. In the process and especially through flashbacks, we learn secrets about both of the women’s past. At every turn there’s a twist. The surprises come so frequently changing the narrative, that the crime story becomes unconvincing even if it still keeps our attention. Though when it goes fully into a Hitchcock crime drama it loses a bit of the shine from its first act of raunchy comedy, even as the mystery reminds us a little of Vertigo. It plays out best as an enjoyable dark comedy cult film that gets into a mess switching into a thriller. But it leaves us with many cool lines such as the one about “secrets being like margarine – easy to spread and bad for the heart.” The confrontational performances by Kendrick and Lively were deliciously animated and the direction by Feig was arresting. The only problem I had was in the pat ending that didn’t close the film as well as it should have.
REVIEWED ON 9/15/2018 GRADE: B https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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