Main cast: Anna Kendrick (Stephanie Smothers), Blake Lively (Emily Nelson), Henry Golding (Sean Townsend), Andrew Rannells (Darren), Linda Cardellini (Diana Hyland), Rupert Friend (Dennis Nylon), and Jean Smart (Margaret McLanden)
Director: Paul Feig
Paul Feig thoroughly humiliated himself during the promotional rounds of Ghostbusters, when he revealed during smug, self-satisfied interviews that he has mommy issues that contribute to his insecurities and hence disdain for other members of his sex along with getting into undignified squabbles with random people on Twitter and accusing anyone that finds even a simple flaw with that movie to be some misogynist Nazi alt-right type. Of course, he then goes ahead to follow up that “Women are so much better than men – fact!” nonsense with a movie that shows people how malicious women can be. If that isn’t the trait of an disingenuous idiot who will say anything in only to promote his own agenda, I don’t know what is.
A Simple Favor is another one of those movies that really, really want to cash in on the fact that Gone Girl made a lot of money. Hence the publicity materials keep comparing this movie to that one and The Girl on the Train. Never mind that Gone Girl was a flash in the pan moment that happened four years ago – a lifetime where people’s memories are concerned – The Girl on the Train still made enough money so I suppose that “women behaving badly” train will still be going a bit longer.
The problem here is that while The Girl on the Train has a marvelously expressive Emily Blunt in the lead and a sexually magnetic Luke Evans in the lead roles, A Simple Favor has the one-note Anna Kendrick and the utterly bland Henry Golding.
Ms Kendrick plays Stephanie Smothers, a widowed preppy and perky video blogger who does things like crafts and recipes. Her son Miles attends the same elementary school as Emily Nelson’s kid, so the two women soon become close friends despite being complete opposites on the surface. After all, Emily is a public relations director in a big fashion house, while Stephanie is more of a small-time mom-first, career lady-second type. Things become interesting when Emily one day asks for A Simple Favor: her husband Sean is in London and she has something urgent to tend to at work, so it’d be great if Stephanie can babysit her son Nicky for a while.
And then Emily vanishes. Of course, Stephanie just can’t let things be, so she starts to make phone calls and poke into where her nose doesn’t belong. What she finds will totally shock everybody…
Watching this movie, I can only wonder why Anna Kendrick is cast. Is Kate Mara too busy? If this movie needs a lead actress who can stand there and put on two facial expressions – perky or goldfish-confused, Ms Mara will be a far less grating choice, especially when she can clearly do more than a single-note style of acting. Or, perhaps, we can switch the far more watchable Blake Lively with Ms Kendrick, so that the more annoying actress will play the role with smaller air time. Henry Golding, as I’ve mentioned, is bland, and his entire character exists just to be the ping-pong ball bouncing off the two female leads, so in the end the two of the three main characters are lightweight types that sort of float through the entire movie without making much of an impact. It’s hard to be interested in a movie when I can’t be bothered to care about what happens to these two.
Still, Paul Feig has put together a competent movie. It moves fast, there are some recognizable scenes of Feig-esque humor, and the cast aren’t making complete fools of themselves by insisting that this movie is something it can’t even come close to being. However, the movie is very dependent on its many twists to sustain the viewer’s interest – the most pivotal cast members have all the charisma of soggy tofu and it lacks the urgent, tense, and gripping suspense of the other movies it compares itself to. This is, at the end of the day, a lightweight, forgettable flick that is more at home in direct-to-DVD, streaming, or something else appropriately low key.