Paul Feig’s first foray into the neo-noir territory boasts an intriguing Gone Girl-like hook: What happened to Blake Lively’s Emily? It’s the million-dollar question that mummy blogger Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) trying to figure out following her best friend’s mysterious disappearance.
Prior to that, Emily has asked her a simple favour to pick up her kids after school since she has to work late that day. But days have passed and there is no sign of Emily. Even Emily’s husband, Sean (Henry Golding) is clueless about her whereabouts. So, Stephanie starts to do her own investigation and finds out that Emily’s disappearance is much more complicated than she thought.
The hook doesn’t just lie in the premise itself. Jessica Sharzer’s (TV’s American Horror Story) screenplay, which is adapted from Darcey Bell’s 2017 novel of the same name, has plenty more to look forward to. Not to risk any spoiler here, let’s just say there are few twists and turns as the movie progresses further.
Now, it would have been great if Feig knows well what he’s doing here. The setup may have been sound promising. But the execution itself is frequently hampered by an inconsistent tone that tries too hard to be dark, twisty and funny at the same time. Not to mention the movie is filled with numerous protracted scenes that drag longer than they should, making its nearly two-hour runtime feel like a slog trying to reach to the finish line. It doesn’t help either when the second half of the movie grows increasingly convoluted with all the twists and turns.
Even some of the comedy elements — which is supposed to be Feig’s major forte — tend to feel either bland, awkward or downright cheesy. It’s like as if he has little clues on how to develop a black comedy that is actually funny, not unintentionally laughable or veering off course into a self-parody.
Fortunately, not all is lost in A Simple Favor. Feig has an eye for sharp visual with the help of John Schwartzman’s crisp cinematography and Jefferson Sage’s chic production design. Renne Ehrlich Kalfus’ costume design particularly deserved a special mention here. The way she dressed Blake Lively is easily the highlight of the movie. Lively certainly looks good pulling off all the stylish pantsuits. At one point during a graveyard scene, she even dressed to kill with a white pinstripe suit that has a V-shaped blouse underneath baring her side boobs. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Academy voters decide to include this movie in the Best Costume Design nomination slot for next year’s Oscars.
The other saving grace in this otherwise uneven neo-noir comedy is the two playful leads by Lively and Kendrick. They are fun to watch for. Too bad Henry Golding, who recently made quite an impression in Crazy Rich Asians, is sadly wasted here with an underwritten supporting role as Emily’s husband, Sean.