Paul Feig goes Noir — with his usual dash of humor
I imagine we’ve all shared a friendship at some point in our lives with someone we thought much cooler than us. For Stephanie (Anna Kendrick, Pitch Perfect, The Last 5 Years) in A Simple Favor, that woman is the stylish and foul-mouthed Emily (Blake Lively, Gossip Girl, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants). They share drinks as their young sons share a play-date and Stephanie connects with Emily, whose enigmatic character and handsome husband Sean (Henry Golding, Crazy Rich Asians) enchant and bewilder Stephanie.
She prefers order and maintains a take-charge persona, yet Emily draws hidden depths and secrets from her. They become close enough that Emily trusts Stephanie one day in a crunch for the aforementioned “simple favor,” to pick up her son from school. And then Emily disappears.
“Are you trying to Diabolique me?”
A Simple Favor is styled like a classic film noir — shades of Preminger’s Laura or the French thriller specifically cited in this movie, Diabolique — combined with Paul Feig’s signature humor. The costuming and set design may be as colorful as something in a Jacques Demy production (with the French pop music to accompany it), but this script is raunchy. Jessica Sharzer’s screenplay, based on the novel by Darcey Bell, tosses jokes about incest and threesomes into a full-blown whodunnit and it’s somehow a winning combination.
As if his Spy wasn’t convincing enough, A Simple Favor shows us that Fieg as a director knows exactly what he is doing. This cast is the most inclusive yet of any of his movies, with Aparna Nancherla (Bojack Horseman), Andrew Rannels (Girls) and Bashir Salahuddin (Glow) in the supporting cast. Salahuddin imbues his detective character with a good-humored snark and sarcasm, a perfect foil to Kendrick’s fidgety Stephanie in their shared scenes.
The only way this casting might be a better fit for Kendrick is if it allowed her to sing… but she easily takes on this role of a slightly twisted mommy-vlogger. Lively deftly takes on the tricky part of Emily and is the clotheshorse of the movie in her stunningly tailored suits.
Stephanie and Emily are gloriously flawed — indeed, each character in A Simple Favor is uniquely complicated — but both are fearless. Emily encourages Stephanie to cut down on her constant apologies, turning those “sorry”s into a running gag. Lively’s character is blithe and cutting, intriguing the audience enough that, like Stephanie, we want to know what happened to her.
Feig’s take on the mystery genre is consistently charming, with levels of ridiculousness that make A Simple Favor feel like a sinful indulgence. For a film noir, it is able to creep into preposterousness so cleanly that the audience willingly comes along. This utterly Feig creation is a real treat.
A Simple Favor opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, Sept. 14.