Here’s a hybrid: a noir-comedy-thriller whose original source material is a chick-lit novel with the same name. Sadly, no single leg of this stool is sturdy enough to hold up any of its parts.
I haven’t read the book — “A Simple Favor” by Darcey Bell — but have seen several other films directed by Paul Feig, who has earned some cred on women-driven projects, most notably, “Bridesmaids” in 2011, “The Heat” in 2013, and “Ghostbusters” in 2016, which I still maintain was unfairly reviled.
(Unless you count “Pride and Prejudice,” my forays into chick-lit ended after I read as many Nancy Drew mysteries as I could get my hands on in third grade.)
When it comes to this film, I’m not sure whether the story is unfocused or too true to the sprawling plot of the book. For me “A Simple Favor” is simply a favor too far.
Here are the three main characters: Emily (Blake Lively), an impossibly glamorous Manhattan career woman; Stephanie (Anna Kendrick), Emily’s country-mouse suburban friend, and Sean (Henry Golding,) Emily’s handsome husband whose job is to react to the other two.
After Emily has befriended cloddish, houswifey Stephanie by plying her with gin martinis and advice — “Stop saying you’re sorry!”; “You are so nice I have no idea how you survived this long!” etc. etc. etc. — she asks for the “simple favor” that is the title of book and film.
Emily phones to ask Stephanie to watch Emily’s son for a few hours while Emily attends to an emergency at work and Sean is out of town. Sweet, naive Stephanie agrees immediately.
After about five days, Stephanie gets curious. She applies some of the lessons she has learned from her sophisticated friend and does some “sleuthing” (as Nancy Drew used to do.) Things just get curiouser and curiouser.
Then Sean (Emily’s husband, remember?) comes home from nursing his hospitalized mother in London, and he and Emily seem to get interested in each other. Then the police get involved.
Then a body turns up in a lake. Then the names “Faith” and “Hope” turn up. Then the police stir the pot some more and Stephanie does more research to discover who Emily really is. Then come about five new plot twists (maybe more; I lost count) and several rabbits are pulled out of hats.
Many questions are answered in a final humorous gunshot scene. Then the coda reveals each character’s happy ending.
If you choose to see the movie, ignore the acting. Anyone could act in “A Simple Favor,” even playing the Emily role if given the right wardrobe and hair styling. The biggest bit of character development occurs in Stephanie, who has an often-referenced mom vlog (“Hi moms!”) and over time wears nicer shoes and socks.
This isn’t the actors’ fault. The characters are unsympathetic and flat, and except for some brief added sex scenes (hurray, R-rating!) they don’t have much to do except recite their flat lines.
To be fair, the movie is enjoyable to watch, but not nearly enough to justify a drive to the cineplex.
Maybe later in the fall, when serious films are released “for your consideration” as the ads in Los Angeles papers suggest, there will be better options.
Feig and team have added a bunch of French music, including a couple of breathy Brigitte Bardot numbers, to the score to enhance the idea that the film is stylish and chic. Not quite enough, alas.