The struggle has been real for Paul Feig who still hasn’t gotten over the fact that his 2016 Ghostbusters remake didn’t pan out the way he would have hoped. Fortunately for him, his first film back in the director’s chair since that debacle is a much better effort, like MUCH better.
From the mind of writer Jessica Sharzer, A Simple Favor is a film about an over-obsessive single mother named Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) who one day meets the mysterious Nelson (Blake Lively) while picking up her son. Stephanie and Nelson quickly become friends and Stephanie become jealous of her luxurious lifestyle. That all changes when Nelson unexpectedly goes missing. Stephanie in her desperate attempt to figure out what happened to her discovers that her best friend isn’t the person she thought she was and the life she built around herself isn’t as peachy as she thought.
Paul Feig discovers what unfortunately Hollywood as a whole has yet to figure out…less is more. From near $200 million blockbusters to a small scale (by comparison) 20 million dollar budget here, Feig gets the best out of his cast when the story is condensed and fanservice isn’t required. Jessica Sharzer vastly improves the quality of her style from Nerve which is the last film she wrote.
The story she writes comes off very well as from the opening act you aren’t sure who to trust as everyone seems to have skeletons in their closet, making the mystery part of the story very compelling. Kendrick and Lively carry the film with their performances. While hyper-neurotic may be the thing for Kendrick, Lively is brilliant as she owns the screen with her presence, style, and personality.
The cast is without a doubt why this movie works, but it is the clash of tone that drags the film down from being so much better. The story does wonders when it is played as a straight thriller, but of course, this is a Paul Feig movie so there has to be laughs. The comedy, however, is what takes you out of the movie. When Anna Kendrick is being awkward and preppy it works because that is part of her character. When she solves a major aspect of the story and then breaks into a minute long rap solo, it just removes you from the film completely because you aren’t sure how serious you are supposed to take the story which is a negative.
At the end of the day, A Simple Favor is a really good film that could have been better, an outcome that is a strong improvement from the last projects for both the writer and director.