Movies and TV shows about upper-middle-class white women with dark secrets have been popping up repeatedly over the past few years. From “Gone Girl” to “Girl on a Train” to “Big Little Lies,” murder, adultery, and grand larceny seem to be lying in wait in every cul-de-sac in America.
You can add “A Simple Favor” to that list, although this movie distinguishes itself by adding a little perkiness and light comedy to all of the sinister seduction and deadly plot twists. It’s a weird mix that almost works, but if you try to be a satire, a thriller, and a screwball comedy all at the same time, you usually wind up being nothing at all.
“A Simple Favor” stars Anna Kendrick as Stephanie Smothers, a Type-A widow who throws herself so hard into being an overachieving mommy she alienates the other parents around her.
Stephanie’s loneliness comes to an end; however, when she befriends her polar opposite Emily Nelson (Blake Lively), a take-no-prisoners fashion executive with a love of strong martinis and French pop music. Emily seems to have it all with the ultra-modern home and handsome husband (Henry Golding) and Stephanie is drawn to her unapologetic confidence.
But, when Emily suddenly disappears, Stephanie, with the help of her mommy vlog, tries to track down Emily and begins to uncover her mysterious past.
“A Simple Favor” is directed by Paul Feig, who is better known for helming broad, female-centric comedies like “The Heat” and “Bridesmaids.” Feig does have a sense of flair and style that colors this film and while he does execute the movie’s various tones successfully, he can’t cover up the unevenness of switching back and forth between them.
Kendrick does an admirable job here of carrying the movie and her transformation from a tightly-wound doormat to daring super-sleuth is fun to watch. And even Lively, who is best known for her one-note performances, actually brings some subtlety, charm, and danger to the character of Emily.
This is a movie that gets a lot of points for trying, but it never really gels and leaves you unsure if you should be laughing, gasping, or crying at any given moment. I think “A Simple Favor” is the sign the dark and twisted world of upscale suburbia may have taught us all it can teach us. That’s probably a good thing.
“A Simple Favor” is rated R for sexual content and language throughout, some graphic nude images, drug use, and violence.