House3
CLOSE
MENUCLOSE

‘A Simple Favor’ Is A Twisted Exploration Of The Dark Side Of #MomLife

Film
Photo by Peter Iovino

It’s motherhood noir

When Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) stares at fellow young mom Emily (Blake Lively), she doesn’t seem entirely sure what she’s looking at. Is Emily, who swans into kid pickup with little interest in classroom volunteering, impossibly glamorous, or just impossible to talk to? Is she a refreshing example of a give-no-fucks mom, in contrast to Stephanie’s try-hard fastidiousness, or is she actually kind of neglectful? Does she love her novelist husband Sean (Henry Golding from Crazy Rich Asians, cornering the market on posh handsomeness), or resent him? It’s Sean who seems to put his finger on it when describing his wife to Stephanie: She has a ghostly presence, never quite snapping into focus.

Paul Feig’s movie A Simple Favor, which is about the relationship between these two women, plays a similar trick, although ultimately less with Emily’s character than with Feig’s tricky, fascinating relationship to genres. Though most of his movies are broad comedies that play with genre, Feig remains resolutely uninterested in satire. Spy doesn’t really spoof Mission: Impossible or James Bond adventures, and The Heat doesn’t kid around with buddy cop conventions; they both just send the wonderful Melissa McCarthy in to upend clichés with her presence.

A Simple Favor comes closer than those movies to really inhabiting its genre—to making the laughs secondary. It’s not quite a comedy, though it has comic notes, even scene-ending gags. Despite Emily’s elusiveness and because of Stephanie’s fascination, the two become unlikely friends, drinking strong martinis and swapping secrets while their young sons play elsewhere in Emily’s spacious suburban home. Then Emily asks Stephanie to pick up her son from school and never materializes to collect him. She’s vanished, and though Sean initially chalks this up to Emily’s flightiness, he eventually shares Stephanie’s concern.

To say more about the plot of A Simple Favor, based on Darcey Bell’s novel, would spoil the surprises it starts springing around the 30-minute mark, and keeps on springing for the rest of its two-hour runtime, sometimes in ridiculously rapid succession. The twists are fun, but they’re not really the point; Feig remains steadfastly interested in complicated friendships between women, and this Gone Girl-ish mystery story allows him to explore those friendships with darker undertones. Kendrick turns the dial on her nervous energy to play Stephanie as seemingly more open and less sexily mysterious than her new friend, but both her performance and the material explore the boundaries between friendship, crush, and envy, amplified by her social status as an awkward, isolated grown-up nerd (a stay-at-home mom with a fledgling vlog, Stephanie basically aspires to aspire, and you can hear the hashtag in her voice when she says “momlife”). Emily is overtly mysterious in the manner of a femme fatale, but that quality is really just a heightened version of the mystery of other people lives—of how well you can really know the friends you make as an adult, with all of their weird baggage intact but hidden away.

A tone that slides back and forth from Bad Moms to Gaslight, and from Apatovian to Hitchcockian, would be slippery for any filmmaker, and Feig, ever the humanist, can only handle so much ostentatiousness behind the camera. In some ways, his direction has become underrated for its skillful way with actors, improvisations, and occasional sight gags punctuating the banter (there’s a terrific cut to Kendrick ferrying an oversized painting in her car), but he tends to go coverage-heavy for his dialogue scenes. Despite the Serge Gainsbourg music cues and occasional forays into suburban-noir imagery (Lively in a dark suit and hat, traversing the school parking lot in the train), the movie is only lightly stylish (though the costuming by Renee Ehrlich Kalfus is aces). The story’s revelations aren’t really teased out for suspense; sometimes, they emerge with comic abruptness, and there a few moments where Feig can’t (or won’t) summon the discipline to refrain from a big gag.

But A Simple Favor has enough interesting material about #momlife, frenemies, and women who can’t stop apologizing that its genre-crossing tonal weirdness becomes part of its charm. It’s largely absurd, yet Kendrick and Lively sometimes succeed in grounding the story’s airport novel outrageousness, right from the thick of it. In a way, they’re each playing women attempting to model themselves on their own star personas: a supermom who’s a motormouthed Anna Kendrick type, and a cool mom who’s as glam and alluring as a Gossip Girl star. The payoffs may be a touch too conventional for the movie to flow as effortlessly as Lively rocks a weirdly revealing suit jacket, but this is a pretty neat comic thriller about women sizing each other up and figuring each other out.

A Simple Favor opens today.

True
Photo by Frank Micelotta/Picturegroup/Shutterstock.

The list is in

The 2019 MTV Video Music Awards nominations are in. Seasoned pop stars Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift are naturally leading this year's nomination pool with 10 nods each, and going head-to-head in multiple categories, including Video and Song of the Year. Billie Eilish, who isn't as seasoned but has built up a sturdy (and beloved) body of work, is right behind with nine nominations this year.

Keep reading... Show less
True
FROM THE WORLD WIDE WEB
Photo via Broadimage/Shutterstock

He has been accused of soliciting nudes from models and touching them while naked

UPDATE 7/23/2019 4:39pm: Kim Kardashian has apparently responded to the allegations against Hyde, though she does not name him, in a post to her Instagram stories. She writes that though she never had a bad experience with him. "I stand in full support of every woman's right to not be harassed, asked or pressured they are not comfortable with," she writes. "We cannot allow this type of behavior to go unnoticed and I applaud those who speak out."

Screenshot via @KimKardashian Instagram

Fashion watchdog Diet Prada has published multiple allegations from models claiming that celebrity photographer Marcus Hyde pressured them into shooting nude photos. Amidst the allegations, Ariana Grande, who has previously worked with Hyde, has published a response, denouncing this kind of behavior by photographers.

Keep reading... Show less
True
Photo by Chelsea Lauren/Shutterstock

She should!

Megan Thee Stallion, aka Hot Girl Meg, is in the process of trademarking "Hot Girl Summer," and it's about time. The term, coined by Meg, has recently been co-opted by brands looking to capitalize on the singular good thing on the internet.

Keep reading... Show less
True
Asset 7
MORE in VIDEO
Photos via Universal Standard

A win for your wardrobe and reproductive health care

Starting today, you can give your wardrobe a major upgrade from Universal Standard at a deep discount and simultaneously give back to a good cause. The ultra-inclusive brand is hosting its first-ever sample sale online now, with all your favorite silhouettes at up to 75 percent off, and donating 50 percent of profits from the purchases to Planned Parenthood.

Keep reading... Show less
True
Photo courtesy of Glen Wilson/ Focus Features

Cynthia Erivo captures the power and bravery of Harriet Tubman, a true hero

Focus Features has dropped the first trailer for Harriet, the film documenting the life and legacy of Harriet Tubman. Just try not to get chills watching Cynthia Erivo as Tubman, whose bravery, strength, and brilliance are on full display here, as we see her navigate a treacherous world, and bring herself and countless others to freedom.

Keep reading... Show less
True