New Movie Review, ‘A Simple Favor’ (2018)

This review starts with a story, a tale of woe, a yarn of infinite sadness if you will. My local theatre had a handful of showings of the original Jurassic Park in honor of its twenty-fifth anniversary. There was simply no way, come heaven or hell, I would miss the opportunity to see Jurassic goddamn Park. So, my sister and I made plans to go see it. Smash cut to an hour before the showing: turns out the last showing was the previous night. Tears were shed. Shadows became darker, and all hope seemed lost. With no happiness or purpose left in my withered body, I told my sister to just pick a movie, any movie and we’ll go see that. She picked A Simple Favor. I’d heard nothing of it, aside from it being the new Paul Feig movie. Now, contrary to the rest of the internet, I actually really like most of Feig’s stuff, with a particular fondness for 2015’s Spy.

And that was all I knew. Didn’t see the trailer, didn’t know who was in it, I hadn’t even seen the poster.

This is the story of how my life was irrevocably changed.

A Simple Favor (2018); Directed by Paul Feig

Simply put, A Simple Favor is a bizarre blend of typical Paul Feig comedy mixed with a surprisingly compelling and tense murder mystery/crime thriller. I’m not going to go into any more specifics in the non-spoiler section, because you should go see this. Go in blind, if you can help it. Now, it’s not Citizen Kane or anything but it is a solid, well-directed, funny, entertaining film. It was a blast and a ton of fun. No doubt in my mind, I easily give this two thumbs way up, and I would highly recommend it. It’s definitely more adult than even the rest of Feig’s work, definitely, don’t bring the kiddos.

I was spellbound by this movie. I laughed, I cheered, I tensed up, god, I even snorted once. There is such a good time to be had here. Performances are stellar, cinematography is great, plot twists and turns like a really suspenseful river. Go see it, seriously.

Ye Be Warned; Spoilers from here on out

 

 

Don’t read this until you’ve seen the movie

 

 

 

And you should go see the movie

 

 

 

 

Seriously, go see this movie

Allow me to describe to you, dear readers, my mindset during the opening act of this film.

  • First Five Minutes: “oooooh, retro style credits before the film, set to the French version of ‘Chick Habit’, I can dig on this.
  • First Ten Minutes: Wait, what? Is this like Unfriended but it’s Anna Kendrick’s webcam baking show?
  • First Twenty Minutes: “Okay, I have no idea what this is or where it’s going, but I have to know what the everliving hell is going on.”

From there on in, I was caught; hook, line, and sinker by this movie. It’s really top notch. Both the comedy portions and the mystery-suspense portions work very well, and it takes a hell of a director to wrangle one of those successfully, let alone both, in the same movie. Feig does both and he does both well. Simple Favor is funny, it’s tense and suspenseful, dark when it needs to be and yet brings in levity right when you need it. This is enhanced by a well-done score and a bloody brilliant French-leaning soundtrack (Jacques Dutronc’s ‘Les Cactus’ is used to perfection).

Again, the directing here is superb. There are a plethora of fantastic shots and we get to see some really great camera work on display. Some really expertly woven foreshadowing is snuck in, even as early as the second scene (the action figures, “I’m back from the dead!”). I was very surprised at how impactful the moments of lingering dread were, throughout the piece. Two bits of directing I particularly liked were (as I describe them in a hopelessly ineffective way that attempts to describe how I felt seeing them):

  • Anna Kendrick’s character Stephanie moving towards a window, dread building, all she can see is the swallowing darkness and her own shadowed reflection.
  • Stephanie is ignoring/fearful of Sean, and going about her own business. The camera steadily swirls around the counter, focussing on her phone as we see Sean calling. The focus then shifts to her reflection in the phone screen, as we read her troubled expression.

That brings me to my next topic, the performances. Spectacular, A Simple Favor is perfectly cast, with every actor playing their role beautifully (only a minor exception, which I’ll get to). Blake Lively is a goddess, Anna Kendrick is also a goddess, but on the opposite end of the goddess spectrum. Those two are without a doubt the highlight of the cast, really making this premise work with their performances. Henry Golding is really good as Sean, balancing likable and slimy. My favorite character was actually the FBI agent character, played by Bashir Salahuddin, is an absolute riot and I loved every minute he was onscreen. As far as actors go, the only big problems here are the child actors. I know, I should cut them some slack because they’re kids, but christ they’re terrible. The scene where the two kids are supposed to be fighting is just laughable as they couldn’t sell it if their lives depended on it. Even some tactfully quick editing can’t obscure the fact that they are the absolute worst. Somehow, they’re even worse than your average child actor and they detract from every scene they’re in, which are thankfully few in number.

As I stated previously, Simple Favor balances it’s two genres very well, and the mystery-suspense plot is very solid, for the most part. 2/3rds of the way through, there’s that interesting twist involving identical twins, which lost me for a little bit. I was unsure which twin was which and why that mattered, but the movie speeds along quickly enough that it’s all wrapped up nicely.

In all the film, I think the only thing I didn’t like (child actors aside) was the way the end credits do the “BASED ON A TRUE STORY HERE’S WHITE TEXT EXPLAINING WHAT HAPPENED LATER AND WHAT HAPPENED TO EVERYONE”. The ending was complete enough without it, and it feels unnecessary and tacked on.

I’ve decided I’m going to do away with the numbered ratings, as it feels kind of extremely arbitrary and I usually end up changing the loose score in my mind basically ten minutes later anyway. The review in its entirety should stand on its own as a comprehensive summary of what I liked and didn’t, so what’s the point of numbering it? I’m still going to rank movie series though, that’s too much fun to get rid of. That being said, A Simple Favor is a genuinely entertaining film, with enough comedic quirks, tense trouble, and slick style to keep me gripped the whole way through. I hope Paul Feig continues to direct, I’m really excited to see what he does next!

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