Twists and turns abound in A Simple Favor, the mommy-vlogger mystery thriller starring Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, and Henry Golding, and directed by Paul Feig. Cleverly written and peppered with black comedy throughout, watching all the story threads come together at the final climax is immensely rewarding, even if not everything is clear even after the credits start rolling.
Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick) is a quirky, doting single mom who eagerly balances helping out at her son’s kindergarten and streaming her regular home cooking videos for a small group of mommy followers. A chance friendship between her son and another boy in his class leads to her meeting his impeccably-dressed, enigmatic, and foul-mouthed mother Emily (Blake Lively). The two form an unlikely bond over shared martinis at Emily’s lavish modern house, and Stephanie also meets Emily’s husband Sean (Henry Golding), a one-time author and university professor. Everything comes to a halt one day when Stephanie receives a rushed call from Emily – a simple favor, to pick up her son after school. A single afternoon turns into five days as Stephanie and Sean realize that Emily has gone missing. Stephanie’s search for answers only leads to more questions, and she learns that the woman she volunteered for is hiding some complicated, dark secrets of her own.
A Simple Favor is one wild ride, and few things are as they initially seem. The tone of the film shifts from comedy drama to mystery thriller the moment Emily vanishes, and from then on the plot balances deft tongue-in-cheek humor with the distinct feeling that things are unraveling even as clues emerge one by one. The story hits all the right narrative beats, and though some reveals are less unexpected than others, everything comes together at the very end for a conclusion that is both triumphant and fitting given the events that preclude it. Stephanie, whose awkward optimism is initially grating, emerges as a capable sleuth as she takes pursuing Emily’s disappearance into her own hands. The other characters come into their own as they reveal traits that make them alternately more despicable and more endearing, without breaking suspension of disbelief. Each of the actors and actresses play their characters convincingly, lending a refreshing sense of fun to a story which could easily be construed as exceedingly cynical with just a few tweaks.
Not all the story elements have been explained by the end of the film, leading to a few minor plot holes that inevitably crop up when a viewer tries to recap everything that has happened in the film. The sheer number of reveals near the end of the film can be overwhelming to keep track of, made no less simple that it is unclear who to trust entirely by that point in the story. Nevertheless, these narrative choices only minimally detract from a moviegoer’s enjoyment of the snappy and superficially noir-ish film as a whole.
A Simple Favor is best enjoyed knowing as little about it as possible. As in any mystery, it can be easy to lose track of information across the film’s runtime, so viewers should be sure to keep track of dialogue and potential Chekhov’s guns. Convolutions aside, the film’s real charm lies in its unrelenting stream of comedic moments, acted flawlessly by the leading duo and saving the film from being a mere retread of a familiar genre.