From the Saul Bass-inspired opening credits straight through to the equally fun closing scroll (set to the tune of No Small Children’s remake of “Laisse Tomber Les Filles”), A Simple Favor is the ultimate in retro-chic and is as clean and slick as a shiny new penny. The film may be billed as a mystery-thriller, but director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, Spy) infuses it with a distinctly hip vibe and enough deliberate dollops of Anna Kendrick goofiness to keep things fun and quirky all the way through.
Kendrick plays Stephanie Smothers, an over-achieving and insufferably bubbly mom in the Connecticut suburbs. She’s widowed and getting by on her late husband’s life insurance as she spends her copious free time vlogging mommy tips. Emily Nelson (Blake Lively) is her exact opposite—an abrasive, no-nonsense fashionista who works in the city as the PR chief for a trendy fashion house. Despite their disparate personalities (and lives), the two become friends because of one shared trait—their first-grade sons are best buddies.
A few weeks after bonding over strong martinis, Emily asks Stephanie to pick up her son after school one afternoon; she’s stuck at work “putting out a fire” and can’t make it in time. Four days pass, though, and Emily still hasn’t come home. Emily’s husband Sean (Henry Golding) was out of town at the time of his wife’s disappearance but came back to help in the search, and after Emily’s body is finally found, he and Stephanie find comfort in each other.
What really happened to Emily, though? Her son comes home one day saying he saw her at school, adding she told him to “say hi to Stephanie”. And then there’s the $4 million life insurance policy Sean took out on her just before she went missing. Strange mail, stranger phone calls, and other bizarre goings-on around the house leave Stephanie feeling more than a little uneasy. “Am I being Diabolique’d?” she asks Sean at one point.
Eventually (no spoilers) everything becomes (somewhat) clear, and a bevy of secrets, double-crosses, and twists keep things humming along. The script by Jessica Sharzer (Nerve) differs enough from Darcey Bell’s Gone Girl-esque bestseller to feel fresh (despite the presence of some of the oldest tricks in the thriller movie playbook, along with a truly whack-a-doodle ending), and the cast—particularly Kendrick and Lively—turn in some of their best work to date.
Feig, helming a non-com for the first time since his 2003 debut I Am David, proves his dramatic(ish) side can be almost as effective as his funny side, giving us an entertaining, old-school mashup of Hitchcock and Howard Hawks. A Simple Favoris light and dark, classic and modern, and warped and twisted.
Do yourself a favor.