It’s been nearly a month since the last good film I saw at Odeon (BlacKkKlansman), ‘A Star is Born’ was a preview at a Showcase cinema so doesn’t count, and I was not particularly convinced that ‘A Simple Favour’ was going to break that mould. It has a very respectable 84% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an equally impressive 7.2/10 score on IMDb. It even has a score of 67/100 on Metacritic, which is a notoriously difficult set of critics to please; however, I just felt that the film wasn’t going to work for me. Maybe my general uncertainty surrounding this film was because: the trailer seemed very confusing or I had been on a rather bad run of films and found it hard to expect anything excellent; nevertheless, I went into it really hoping for the best.
What is it about?
Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick) is the perfect mum. She signs up for everything she can to help at her child’s school; she runs her own vlog, offering simple life-hacks for other mums; but most importantly, devotes her life to loving her kid, Miles (Joshua Satine.) Emily Nelson (Blake Lively) is almost the binary opposite of Stephanie. She works in the city as the head of PR for a fashion firm and only turns up to school to take her kid, Nicky (Ian Ho,) home. However, when Nicky and Miles force their reluctant parents to let them have a playdate, the unlikely pair soon become friends. They drink martinis and trade confessions, just like kids getting to know one another, and as their kids continue their succession of playdates they get to know each other more intimately. Then, one afternoon Emily asks Stephanie ‘A Simple Favour’, to pick up Nicky from school as she has run into a bit of a crisis at work and her husband Sean (played by Henry Golding) is with her mother in hospital as she broke her hip. She gratefully obliges and takes Nicky home; but when there is no sign of Emily late into the night, she begins to panic. Days later the whereabouts of Emily are still unknown and on Stephanie’s hunt to find clues linking to Emily’s disappearance, she begins to dredge up terrible secrets from the past. But, will they help her to find Emily?
What did I think?
I must admit, I was surprised by this film; and in a good way. Personally, I believe it’s biggest strength was the narrative unpredictability. For most of the films I see in cinema nowadays, even if I can’t work out exactly where the plot will end up, I can work out a rough structure and a series of potential endings in my mind. Whereas, in this film I couldn’t guess what was going to happen in the next ten minutes, never mind the rest of the film. As a mystery, I felt this really played into it’s hands: as it meant plot twists were even more shocking. Anna Kendrick’s performance as a single-mum, turned mystery solver was enthused and rather excellent. For the majority of the film, she was at the forefront and if her performance hadn’t been so quirky then I think I would have got bored very quickly. Similarly, I thought Blake Lively was brilliantly mysterious from the start. From the moment she appeared on screen I was made to feel the act she was putting on was just a protective façade and I couldn’t wait to see what would ultimately be revealed about her character. I really liked the use of set in this film. The Nelson’s house with all it’s grandeur and interesting subtleties seemed to shift with the atmosphere of the film. Although it didn’t physically change, the way it was used in a number of scenes, along with the narrative itself, to project wildly different tones; was very interesting. Finally, I liked the way the plot was pushed forward by excerpts from Stephanie’s vlog and I especially liked the way this was used to end things.
However, although the unpredictability generally worked in it’s favour; the way it bounded from one plot point to another often left large gaps where stuff just made absolutely no sense. At points while watching I felt it never really decided what it wanted to be and I think that was a key reason I struggled to guess forthcoming plot points. Looking back on it now there are things I think are so outrageous they hardly make any sense. I am going to list a few now so unless you have seen the film or are not bothered about spoilers, skip past the bullet points.
- How does Blake Lively manage to see everything that’s going on? (How does she know that her husband and Stephanie have sex? etc…)
- How does Blake Lively convince the police to move ALL of their forces from one house to another through a single phone call?
- If Lively’s husband does somehow get the insurance money- how does Lively plan on getting any of the money without raising huge suspicions or being caught?
- Why does Kendrick suddenly go from being a faithful best friend to having sex with Lively’s husband on the night of her funeral? (Surely that’s too soon.)
- What actually happened in the build up to the ending? People swapped sides so many times I just got confused.
Anyway, you get the gist- some things made little sense. However, other than this I thought the film, whilst watching it in the moment, was pretty sound. It is a little overlong and totally forgettable; but it was a fun film for a Saturday afternoon.
My Rating: 7/10
I thoroughly enjoyed this film. I wouldn’t necessarily say it is a good film; but, it is much more fun than: The Nun, The Predator and The Meg; which were all stunningly dull. I thought the acting was good, the narrative was exciting and it was all done in a nice setting with nice clothes. Sure it has it’s faults but there are few films without them. If you are looking for some exciting, throw-away nonsense to take up your afternoon- this is just the film for you.
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P.S. Mini Review from brother about ‘Night School’: It’s bad, don’t watch it.