A Simple Favor
Updated: Nov 30, 2019
Campy Neo-Noir with a Twist
Genre: Suburban neo-noir turned mystery thriller
Why We Watched: Fall has officially arrived. The air is crisp, leaves are on the ground, and Halloween is around the corner. After seeing A Simple Favor in theaters last year, I knew it would be the perfect early fall re-watch. It has just the right level of thrills and chills to get you ready for October's witching hour.
You Might Also Like: I could easily use this as an opportunity to give you my long list of film noir recommendations. (Please feel free to slide into my DMs @tahenthorne for hot takes on everything from Leave Her to Heaven to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.) But, since noir is a genre defined by mood, I'd recommend queuing up A Simple Favor's soundtrack, a blend of French pop that strikes a balance between light and foreboding. Once the music is going, grab yourself a martini Emily-style—in a chilled glass, straight, with a lemon rind twist.
A Simple Favor begins quite innocently. Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick), a widowed single mom, addresses the viewers of her arts and crafts vlog. Before she shares her zucchini chocolate chip cookie recipe, she has an announcement. Her best friend, Emily Nelson (Blake Lively), has gone missing. Subaru-driving, cat sock-wearing Stephanie becomes Nancy Drew and the rest of the movie follows along as she unravels the mystery of who Emily is and how she disappeared.
When it was released, A Simple Favor was met with mixed reviews. The New Yorkerpraised the performances but concluded that bright colors and nicely curated score masked that the film was hollow and "made of plastic," while The New York Times concluded that the story stalls out and doesn't maximize its "juicy potential." But to call A Simple Favor plastic misses the point. It's a movie made to be slightly exaggerated and overdone. This is what takes the noir elements, typically dark and dramatic, and makes them comedic.
We see this most noticeably when Emily and Stephanie first meet. As she comes to pick her son up at school, Emily's sports car speeds into the parking lot. Her door opens and instead of seeing her face, we're shown her dark black pump—slightly edgy with a dangerous glint of red on the sole. You never fully see Emily's face until she makes it to the school entrance, having been shrouded by a black umbrella as she saunters across the parking lot. It creates a sense of mystery that matches her husband Sean's (Henry Golding) eventual description of her: "You can get close to her, but you can never quite reach her. She's like a beautiful ghost." The humor comes from the sense that Emily is, in fact, a caricature. She's wearing a full suit, has a massive nude portrait of herself hanging in her family's living room, and drinks enough Aviation gin to keep Ryan Reynolds in business indefinitely.
Debates on genre aside, the characters' duplicitous pasts are enough to keep your interest for just shy of two hours. One character, for example, is revealed to be a "brother fucker." I'll let that one stand on its own, but take that to say that no plot twist is truly off limits. Characters fire shot after shot after shot up until the final minutes of the movie.
A Simple Favor leans on dynamic performances, backed with palpable chemistry and just enough camp. Put on some popcorn tonight and get ready for a wild ride! This one is a treat to watch.
Happy streaming! Tess