Gone Girl” meets “Clueless” in “A Simple Favor,” a zippy, stylish black comedy that pits glamorous Blake Lively against perky Anna Kendrick in a truly inspired comedic pairing.
Paul Feig, director of “Bridesmaids,” “Ghostbusters” and “Freaks and Geeks,” strikes a dark but daffy tone that carries the film through its more obvious plot twists. The pleasure of this experience is not in figuring out who done it, but in enjoying the characters these two rather extraordinary leading ladies throw at the viewers.
Anna Kendrick plays Stephanie, a seemingly perfect mom whose devotion to her son masks the pain of being a widow. Her enthusiasm for parenting and her earnest mommy vlog make her the target of the other parents’ derision. Emily (Blake Lively), on the other hand, is a standout mom from the opposite end of the spectrum; impossibly gorgeous and far too glamorous to volunteer at a bake sale, she reluctantly invites Stephanie and her son over for a play date one afternoon.
Dazzled by Emily’s house, Emily’s husband and especially Emily herself, Stephanie slurps up martinis and gossip, willing to do anything to keep the approval she cannot believe she has won from her new, impeccably tailored friend. This reminds me of another film that dealt with a quintessentially female, highly lopsided friendship, “Ingrid Goes West.” When Emily asks for the “simple favor” of the title, of course Stephanie obliges and picks up her son.
When an afternoon turns into two days, Stephanie finds herself doing more favors on behalf of the missing Emily, overstepping many boundaries in her quest to find the mysterious glamazon. An ostensibly selfless Emily is rewarded with attention from the concerned husband, an increasing number of viewers for her vlog and a general designation as a saint. It’s fun to watch manipulative skills improve and wonder if maybe they were there all along.
Rest assured, the plot of this flick is preposterous, and boasts something like a sextuple cross before all is said and done. I lost count of the lies and reversals in the film’s final 20 minutes. It is, essentially, a spoof of the genre, but a sophisticated one, and the costumes in particular exceed the expectations from a dandy like director Paul Feig, famous for wearing a suit at all times. I thought “Gone Girl” was trying so hard to be sexy and shocking that it was unintentionally hilarious. “A Simple Favor” is intentionally hilarious and slyly sexy and shocking.
Watching Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick together is what makes “A Simple Favor” deliriously fun, a pitch-black yet candy-colored comedy. Some of the logic fails to hold up under careful, or even casual, scrutiny, but the chemistry does. Playing moms and women that are two kinds of female stereotypes pitted against each other, they dig into so much more that they turns those stereotypes inside out.
These actresses come across so much smarter and better than a blonde versus brunette joke, and as they throw everything they have against each other, the audience witnesses a soap opera world gone wonderfully meta, where we are lucky these two intentionally unhinged broads let us in on their joke.
“A Simple Favor” is currently available to rent.
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