Paul Feig has moved on from comedies and bustin’ ghosts to directing a fidgety but fun thriller which buzzes between comic moments and dangerous women with erratic glee.
Single mum and vlogger Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick) goes over to the house of the mysterious Emily Nelson (Blake Lively) because their sons want to hang out. After a very short time they become ‘best friends’ and share drinks and secrets with one another. Whilst Stephanie looks after both children, assuming her new pal is on a work trip, she realises Emily has actually gone missing and she begins to try and solve the mystery behind her disappearance.
Just from the burst of opening credits alone, ‘A Simple Favor’ has the impression of a Saul Bass sequence. The sharp lines of triangular images jutting onto the black screen aren’t the only Hitchcockian influences, other choices in this film do also slightly mirror the films of Mr Alfred. The playing around with audience reactions and expectations with sudden impending thrills are right up the streets of ‘Psycho’ and ‘Vertigo’.
However, it isn’t just the ‘Master of Suspense’ which this thriller seems to take inspiration from. There are clear streaks of French cinema boldly coursing through the American mommy culture of bake-sales and home blogs, which work well. It’s no coincidence that Stephanie alludes to ‘Les Diaboliques’, a film with a similar narrative and an almost Hitchcock presence. Additionally, the French music throughout earlier moments gives the plot a jaunty feel and a crisp European flavour that balances nicely with Theodore Shapiro’s on-edge strings, creating a score typical of the thriller genre.
In terms of the story itself, this is a crazy one. Jessica Sharzer’s screenplay goes into places of unexpected madness and incorporates plenty of delicious twists and turns. When you reflect on the film it is true to say some aspects are almost laughably absurd and one key revelation does feel like we’re being shortchanged but aside from this and one scene filled with expositional back-story, there’s plenty of tongue in cheek fun to be had. It definitely feels like Paul Feig had a ball behind the camera, his knack for comedy features works wonders and his suited appearance drifts into the fashion trends of the movie, not only in the great costume department but in the sleek designs of the world the characters inhabit.
Saying that, there are details that are hard to swallow and the film will likely divide audiences but having the delightful zip of Kendrick on board is a great remedy for the weaker moments. She plays about with Stephanie’s strange developing characteristics and a smiley nature with kooky nerdiness is exquisitely executed by the ‘Pitch Perfect’ actress. Co-star Lively livens up the antics by being an unsettling enigma dripping in glamour and she offsets the luxurious house and clothes with a feisty bite of female dominance and confidence.
‘A Simple Favor’ is bonkers and not the usual thriller but this going against the grain is surely as refreshing as the many martinis Stephanie and Emily drink. It’s a strange thriller, comedy hybrid, positively exploding with a grinning reverence to reveal and hide secrets.
Written by Troy Balmayer
Rating – 7/10
Question: What is your favourite Paul Feig film?
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