Opening to better than expected box office in the US last weekend, Paul Feig’s new film – A Simple Favour, with the ‘u’ returned for its UK release – is being advertised as from his darker side. Given that he’s had light, comedic hits such as Spy, Bridesmaids, Ghostbusters and The Heat in the last six or seven years, that’s understandable. But then it overlooks his earlier drama, I Am David, or the darker passages in his excellent pair of autobiographical books.
A Simple Favour, though, ultimately has its foot in both camps. On the one hand, it’s a twisty, Hitchcock-hat-tipping thriller (right down to Theodore Shapiro’s terrific score), and on the other a very funny comedy. It sometimes treads an unusual and not always successful line between the two. But then conversely, it works in its own way as both.
The set up – and it’s based on the book by Darcey Bell, although Jessica Sharzer’s screenplay is apparently a fairly loose adaptation – sees us in a small town where Anna Kendrick’s Stephanie Smothers is a single mother. She’s trying to be a perfect one too, over-enthusiastic and also runs her own vlog.
But her life turns when she encounters Blake Lively’s Emily, who, let’s charitably say, is less interested in getting on with people. The two of them end up having a drink, in what turns out to be a pivotal scene in the movie, and the plot begins to kick in.
I’m staying light on plot details because a) manners, and b) this one twists. And twists. And twists. There’s, in fact, an awful lot of plot that the film has to explore, and every now and then there’s the sense that it’s in danger of tying itself up in knots. Furthermore, plot sometimes has to be got through fast, with Feig clearly conscious that he wants a movie that fits under a two hour running time. To fit that, some sacrifices have to be made, and some things are a little more convenient than you may expect.
But, but, but: it works. And it works for a few reasons. The main one is Anna Kendrick, playing a character who is on screen for the vast bulk of the film, who is always fun to watch, and has a fair amount of work to do to get her character across. She’s never less than excellent here, and is the standout in a film that gives Blake Lively the room to have an awful lot of fun too. The pair of them together give the film its best moments.
On top of the aforementioned humour, too, it’s just fun to hang on for the ride. There’s a real effort made here to pull the rug, keep you interested, keep things twisting, and give you at heart an old-style thriller, just one with sex, violence, and a massive painting of someone’s nether regions. Furthermore, the whole thing rattles along at a good pace, never lets things drop below entertaining, and happily eschews grounding things in grim reality, in favour of gloss, style, breeze and fun. I’m quite happy with that trade off, and had an awful lot of fun with A Simple Favour. Going by the reactions coming out of America, I suspect I’m not alone.
A Simple Favour is in UK cinemas now.