After 10 years of predominantly working in television, Paul Feig hit the big leagues in 2011 when he directed Bridesmaids. The film was a box office and critical smash, also earning 2 Oscar nominations in the process. Feig’s work has mostly been focused on comedy, yet his CV has varied in quality since the Kristen Wiig wedding pleaser. SPY is a hysterical secret agent escapade with a scene-stealing Jason Statham, but far less successful were the Sandra Bullock cop flick The Heat and the controversial female-led Ghostbusters reboot. So when I saw Feig attached to A Simple Favour, a missing person thriller, it was intriguing to see him go in a new direction.
Sadly, A Simple Favour’s comedic tone clashes with the darker elements of the film and as betrayal looms large and secrets are uncovered, Feig mines far too many of these key moments for uncomfortable laughs. It has a very similar vibe to David Fincher’s sublime Gone Girl, and that itself had multiple very amusing moments, but here it feels out of place and much more forced.
The story follows Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick), a widowed mother who seeks to uncover the truth about the disappearance of her new best friend, the mesmerising yet mysterious Emily Nelson (Blake Lively).
Anna Kendrick has over the years mastered the role of geeky yet likeable characters who you’ll always root for. Here it is very much the same, but she’s given a bit more of a meatier role than usual as the film tackles some interesting developments from her past. Kendrick is fine, but she doesn’t command the screen like she usually does. She shines brighter with a co-star (see Up in the Air) or as part of an ensemble (see the Pitch Perfect trilogy) but here with so much screen time given to just her character, she failed to keep me engrossed.
The standout is easily Blake Lively, who also brings out the best in Kendrick as both share a sweet and genuine chemistry when on screen together. Lively brings a fun swagger to her role, in a campy over-the-top turn and her scenes are easily the best part of the movie.
The film is shot with real style and panache. Feig’s directing is slick and precise, with the addition of an irresistible Italian soundtrack keeping proceedings bouncing and bubbly.
However, I was terribly disappointed by the costume design. Blake Lively’s wardrobe at times seemed more impractical and outlandish than necessary, while Kendrick’s seemed too old-fashioned. It felt like Feig was trying too hard to establish their apparent differences.
Ultimately, Feig just cannot seem to settle on a tone, as he aims for this to be a fun crime-comedy but will occasionally turn to darker themes such as affairs, financial stability and relationship despair. I really wish Feig had shied away from the comedy, as these more mature segments were intriguing but are let down by the attempts at humour. Some of the gags certainly land, with Lively’s behaviour at times being especially amusing, but the success rate on the jokes was disappointingly low.
It’s all far too predictable and tame, concluding with a third act filled with necessary twists, yet nothing is unexpected or imaginative. The whole film simply feels like a mashup of other better movies.
Verdict: This wannabe Gone Girl thriller lacks the humour, thrills or surprises which made Fincher’s picture so special. The movie certainly has style and Lively is a blast, but I think you’ll need more than a few Martini’s if you’re going to enjoy this caper.
Best Moment: Lively and Kendrick share secrets on the sofa