“I want to be with those who know secret things or else alone.”
A mildly entertaining crime noir mystery that reduces itself to the usual legerdemain, but not before creating a fascinating female character (Blake Lively) driven by a few choice lines that adds unique character depth to an already flawless presence. A Simple Favor is a about an opportune encounter between an involved mother (Anna Kendrick) who makes the time to raise her son and another (Lively) who, despite having a semblance of parenting, is mostly aloof and unfiltered in her drinking, sexuality, and unapologetic misanthropy. When Lively goes missing, Kendrick is forced to uncover the mystery by using her more than competent investigative skills of cunning deceit and personality that she strangely couldn’t employ to be less awkward socially. I won’t bore you with the details because the movie will do that for me if you decide to watch it on your next international flight. As Katie Walsh (LA TIMES) puts it: “about as deep as a champagne coupe, but the performers, slick execution and pop-art style make it a delightfully fun and kitschy ride.” Or Josephine Livingstone (New Republic):
As each bizarre revelation layers over the last, it becomes clear that the problem with A Simple Favor is not really the inconsistent styling (sixties cool, but make it … YouTube?) or the TV-paced humor, but the poor plot underpinning it all. This story makes no sense, and Feig has packaged it inside a patchwork of styles that amplifies rather than conceals the movie’s problems.
No offense to Manohla Dargis (NY TIMES) who takes to the bland exhibitionism and incestual impiety of Kendrick (“the movie belongs to Ms. Kendrick”) with feverish incompetence, missing wholly that the character is little more than an impetuous grow-up stuck with a need for adult attention and infants ability to resist temptation (in any form, even babysitting for free). Her transformation is wholly manufactured, left to little more than a stand-in relief for saying “brother-f*ck**r.”
Lively, on the other hand, is special. Certainly not Oscar worthy, as David Ehrlich has suggested (I guess we shouldn’t expect much when he put the Phantom Thread below The Post in his year-end top 25). She embodies the Serena van der Woodsen who grew up, became successful, utterly jaded and fed up with the world — a rare combination matched with capable and balanced writing that is usually not seen in films that don’t involve Jessica Chastain.
The writer Jessica Sharzer manages to create in Lively an almost perfect blend of dry comedy and self-destructive vainglory that could have been a fascinating character study into the power and allure of the modern-day feminist expression without the usual preachy license that accompanies films of the same breed (e.g. Blockers). Sure the critics did their usual predictable adulation for an otherwise average film because it preached the progressive mantra of female empowerment and sexual liberation, but there was something beyond the pale imitations that struck at the core of sheer competence and the accompanying sense of self-loathing. Take a Lively and mix her with the likes of Gillian Anderson in The Fall and you’ve got a recipe for an all female True Detective spin-off without the pomp and circumstance of Scandal. This theme is only marginally exploited as Paul Feig takes the film straight into the ground with sheer predictability and ridiculous end game balloons, but it was enough to entice in hopes some semblance of Lively’s former self returns.
And while it never does, the early images are indelible.