BY ERIN CARBERRY ’19
Based on the debut thriller novel of the same name by Darcey Bell, “A Simple Favor” follows widow and single mom Stephanie (Anna Kendrick, “Up in the Air”) as she befriends the enigmatic Emily (Blake Lively, “The Age of Adaline”). When Emily disappears, Stephanie becomes obsessed with finding her friend and is quickly drawn into the tangled web of Emily’s secrets. As the story unfolds and more stones are overturned, the audience discovers that no one — not even wholesome, mommy-vlogger Stephanie — is as innocent as they seem. But how far can a story like this go before it becomes too far-fetched to follow?
The setup of the film is not anything unique: wholesome, naive Stephanie befriends foul-mouthed, martini-sipping Emily and finds herself entranced by the woman whose lifestyle and way of thinking is so different from her own. Kendrick and Lively’s performances, both alone and alongside each other, add depth to their budding relationship, as the platonic blurs with the potentially romantic. Each actress breathes life and subtle emotion into their otherwise cookie-cutter characters.
The deeper Stephanie digs, the more secrets and sordid details from Emily’s past she uncovers. But the more that she uncovers, the more audiences are unsure if the surprising plot twists are intended to be taken seriously or as satire. Granted, the film’s director, Paul Feig (“The Office”), is known for his work in comedy. But his attempted foray into darker satire falls flat. There would be something to be said for a film that started out taking itself seriously before becoming a biting commentary of the missing woman thriller genre made popular by movies such as “Gone Girl” and the “The Girl on the Train”, but the film’s ending doesn’t get all the way there. Stephanie gains the upper hand, leaving Emily and the audience in a tailspin, struggling to make sense of the film’s ultimate resolution.
The film’s score is particularly effective. When Emily first invites Stephanie to her home, she plays upbeat French music. Throughout the film, even after Emily has disappeared, this music becomes her soundtrack. Whether played by the characters themselves or simply part of the overlaid soundtrack, this music (of the same style and language) serves to remind us of her, often underscoring moments when Stephanie draws inspiration from her reckless friend.
Costume design and set decoration work in tandem to define each character and slowly blur the lines between them. From the film’s opening scene, Stephanie is clad in and surrounded by bright colors and patterns. Throughout the film, she wears knee-length dresses and sweaters in all colors of the rainbow. Even her home is decorated with the same colorful, almost juvenile sense of style. Emily is the opposite, wearing only monochromatic outfits: suits and black leather boots. Her home is entirely monochrome as well, with glass walls and white marble countertops defining the space. As Stephanie delves deeper into Emily’s hidden past, her clothing begins to change, colors dimming and darkening as she becomes more entangled. I
n the film’s final scene, Stephanie and Emily have entirely switched aesthetics and revealed themselves to be more similar than audiences anticipated. While its conclusion may leave some scratching their heads, “A Simple Favor” is a complex mystery full of twists and turns in a carefully constructed fictional world. The film leans on some cliches of the genre but nevertheless succeeds in creating complicated characters and a mystery audiences can’t help but follow as Stephanie is sucked into Emily’s web of secrets.