Ones We Missed: A Simple Favor (2018) - Reviewed

"Don't apologize. It's a fucked-up female habit. Seriously, stop doing that."  
--Blake Liveley 

There was a time when I would have listed Anna Kendrick as a known allergen on a medical intake form. (Not like, hives, or my throat closing up, or anything like that--more like you ate the entire box of Sweet Tarts that used to come in cardboard at movie theaters back in the '90s, and the roof of your mouth gets all ribbed and inflamed and would go away if only you could stop tonguing it.) And I'll be the first to admit there's no rational reason why I was so viscerally averse to one of the most talented, committed, and hard-working actors of her generation. It's just that I found her persona too plucky and chipper, like she's going to show up at my front door any minute to invite me to the neighborhood with a fruitcake. 

Ironically enough, I was completely won over by her syrupy-sweet suburban helicopter parent, played to absolute perfection in Paul Feig's comedy crime caper A Simple Favor. I'll grant the "Mean Girls Meets Gone Girl" marketing may leave you justifiably suspicious. But along with Blake Lively's femme fatale #youareabadass with a shady past (unapologetically profane and never missing a note), her performance is the best reason to drag your ass out. Hire a sitter and have a gin martini with a lemon twist (or three)--this is escapist fun that goes down smooth and sweet. 

As the film opens, Stephanie (Kendrick) is addressing her YouTube mommy vlog audience from her kitchen, breaking down as she asks the hive mind for help in finding her best friend Emily (Lively), who's been missing for five days. Rewind to barely a few weeks before, when widowed PTA mom-of-the-year Stephanie is instantly enamored upon first meeting corporate chic #bossbabe Emily before their sons' playdate. They throw back martinis at 2:00 on a weekend, trade stories of sexual escapades, and in all ways let down their hair--something you can tell Stephanie definitely hasn't done at least since the death of her husband, perhaps never. Emily is icy and secretive, but also gregarious and hospitable. Her life seems the perfect balance of dangerous and domestic (the minimalist modern mansion and trophy author husband), and Stephanie's straightlaced supermom is instantly drawn in by the allure. Until Emily goes missing. 

As director Feig steers the narrative into Gillian Flynn territory, his deft hand manages to keep the ship afloat when it could just as easily have sunk on the neo-noir shoals. Some of the turns of plot seem contrived or unconvincing, but A Simple Favor never suffers the fate of so many films before it that "couldn't figure out what they wanted to be." By keeping the tone light, the pacing brisk and breezy, and staying well-aware of the film's inherent silliness, Feig channels career-best performances from Kendrick and Lively into a sordid romp that never takes itself too seriously. 

--Eugene Kelly