A Simple Favor

 

            Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) is the kind of stay-at-home Mom who signs up for everything in her kid's class.  The teacher even has to ask her to leave some room for other parents on the sign-up sheet.  She's that conscientious.  She also has a vlog, aimed at other Moms, talking about recipes and oregamis and other homey endeavors.  She doesn't seem to have many friends, though.  Until she's thrown together with Emily (Blake Lively).  It turns out their sons are playmates at school, and they want to have a playdate in each other's homes.  Emily looks like a high-powered working Mom who's way too sophisticated for baby-sitting exchanges, but somehow Emily and Stephanie find themselves spending time together because of their sons.  And it's an awkward relationship.  Emily is brash and brassy, where Stephanie is prim and proper.  But Emily insists on afternoon martinis---strong ones---and soon Stephanie loosens up enough to play a modified Truth or Dare game where they both tell about something naughty they did.  It's the first of many intimate secrets.  When Emily's husband, Sean (Henry Golding) comes home, they can hardly keep their hands off each other, even with Stephanie present.  Or is it because she's there that they seem so amorous?

            Several days later, Emily asks Stephanie for a simple favor:  Sean is out of town, and she's slammed at work, and can Stephanie please take the boys tonight?  Stephanie says sure.  And then Emily disappears.

            Based on the debut novel by former preschool teacher Darcey Bell, “A Simple Favor” features some focus on the kids, who sometimes say something with startling frankness, and sometimes play too rough, and sometimes ask some questions that are tough to answer.  Director Paul Feig has some comic experience, and some of the scenes feature some unexpected humor. 

            But mostly, what we have here is a stylish thriller with several twists in the plot.  We find things about Emily that make us wonder how much of her intimidating chic is a convincing charade.  When Stephanie and Sean band together for mutual support during Emily's absence, our emotional alarms start ringing, but we're not sure just exactly who is dangerous to whom.  And yes, after a while the police get involved, and they're not exactly paradigms of empathy.

            Yes, there is character development, especially in Stephanie, as she shows us a side we haven't seen before:  the take-charge, take-matters-in-her-own hands, anti-ingenue.  We don't want to stand in her way when she gets determined.

            So what does happen to Emily?  And how will it affect Stephanie and Sean, not to mention their children?  With so many deceptions, the truth seems in short supply.  But “A Simple Favor” is an entertaining foray into a genre that defies easy description:  kind of comedic, sort of suspenseful, mostly dramatic, occasionally self-consciously posturing, but never dull.  And if you get up to get more popcorn you might miss something imporant.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association