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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Sep 18, 2018

A Simple Favor Movie Review: A Trashy Crime Thriller

BLAKE LIVELY is oozing with so much star quality and sexiness. We’ve liked her since we first saw her in “Gossip Girl” in 2007 and in the films she later did like “The Age of Adaline”, “Cafe Society” with Woody Allen and “The Shallows”. She shines even in a boring stupid film like “All I See is You”.

On the other hand, we’ve always wondered how Anna Kendrick became a Hollywood star. She was perfectly cast in “Up in the Air”, for which she got an Oscar best supporting actress nomination, and in the “Pitch Perfect” movies, but we hardly noticed her in the other films she did, like the “Twilight” series, “50/50” and “The Company You Keep”.

Now, they’re together in “A Simple Favor” which aspires to be a stylish crime-thriller but only succeeds in being a trashy one. Based on a novel published last year by Darcy Bell and set in a Connecticut suburb, Anna plays her usual perky but insufferable self as Stephanie, a simple, widowed young mom who hosts a “how to” vlog for moms, like how to bake zucchini chocolate chip cookies.

Her son is best friends with the son of Blake as Emily, a glamorous, fashionable and ravishing public relations executive of a top fashion firm who’s so self assured and married to a one-hit-wonder novelist and academician, Sean (Henry Golding of “Crazy Rich Asians”.)

They start hanging out regularly in Emily’s beautiful mansion, drinking martinis and exchanging juicy secrets.Emily also asks Steph to look after her son when she’s busy with work and the latter gladly babysits. They even get to kiss each other on the lips, giving the movie a Sapphic subtext.

Then one day, Emily suddenly goes missing. Her body is found days later in a lake and she’s given a decent burial. Then her son tells Steph he saw his mom in school and so Steph does her own investigation of what might have happened to Emily. Digging around Emily’s past like a late blooming Nancy Drew and vlogging about her missing friend, she eventually unearths some unsavory truths about her supposed best friend. She also becomes much closer to Sean and, soon, they’re sharing the same bed. So she’s not really that far from Emily, right?

“A Simple Favor” is directed by Paul Feig, best known for broad comedies with female stars like “Bridesmaids”, “Ghostbusters” remake, “The Heat” and “Spy”, most of which are big hits. Maybe he should avoid mystery-thrillers as “A Simple Favor” is not as engaging as the screwball comedies he does.

The Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot French songs used in the soundtrack are supposed to give the movie an air of witty and mysterious tone to help the viewer savor its shocking elements like murder, sex, and twisty sinful revelations. But sorry, it actually alienated us and didn’t sound chic and endearing at all.

The movie is reminiscent of such bad girl movies as “The Girl on the Train”, “Gone Girl”, “Single White Female”, “Gone Baby Gone” and, (they even mention it) “Diabolique”, but lacks the moral conundrum offered by some of these comparatively better made films.

At the start, it seems like a riveting portrait of women who allow themselves to be used and pushed around by more intimidating people. But it turns out that Stephanie has a darker side and personal secrets involving incest. This has the potential to show more emotional depth but it gets lost with Blake’s Emily being so much of a cold and calculating woman who won’t hesitate to resort to murder to pursue her own personal intentions. In all fairness to Blake, she plays her mean girl role quite expertly.

It’s Henry Golding who gets dismally shortchanged in his thankless role as the hunky husband who’s accused of causing his wife’s disappearance. He quickly wasted whatever success he gained from his breakout role in “Crazy Rich Asians”. His female co-stars are really the ones who get plum parts and are required to do a lot more as desperate housewives. But in the movie’s third act when explanations were offered, they’re all compelled to sell a silly and very contrived series of revelations and betrayals that discards any sense of reality.

The best way to have done this toxic tale of a twisted friendship is as a shameless piece of campy entertainment, but the director obviously just doesn’t have it in him to come up with a deftly handle piece of guilty pleasure. Its biggest failure, we think, is that it failed in making Stephanie’s transition from Ms. Goody Two Shoes to a wily badass mean girl, who learns how to hatch a nasty plan herself, truly convincing and satisfying. Feig should have taken workshops first on how to do psychological thrillers from Alfred Hitchcock or Claude Chabrol before doing this movie.
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