Saturday, 22 September 2018

IN THEATRES: A Simple Favor

When Stephanie's (Anna Kendrick) new friend Emily (Blake Lively) goes missing, she goes on the hunt to find out what happened. As Stephanie follows a trail of clues, she begins to realise that she does not know her friend as well as she thought...

Paul Feig is most well-known for directing comedies like Bridesmaids, The Heat, Spy and the remake of Ghostbusters. For his latest venture, he has taken a step outside the sandbox to dabble in thriller territory with an adaptation of the novel by Darcey Bell.

Man, this movie is so tonally and generically confused: Is it a thriller? A black comedy?

There are elements of both here, but they feel out of balance. Feig feels a bit lost - it is not dark enough and not funny enough, or at least not in the right places or at the right level. It’s not a bad movie, but these differing tones end up negating each other - it is the movie equivalent of “Like getting slapped with warm lettuce”, to quote Aussie PM Paul Keating.

It falls to the two leads to navigate this tableaux, and to a large extent, they do. Kendrick is hilarious and vulnerable as a lonely single mom who finds herself drawn to the mysterious Emily (Lively).

Lively is having a great time as the object of Stephanie's adoration. Completely unfiltered and dead-eyed, she is a great comic femme fatale. And in a movie with a better understanding of tone, the muddying of Emily's motivations could have come off. As is, she is basically a sharply-dressed cliche.

The weakest link is Henry Golding, as Emily's husband Sean. The character is meant to be as mysterious as his missing beau, but he never really who never convinces as either a grieving dad, a fall guy or a potential suspect.

I remember a comment Film Crit Hulk made about Feig’s inconsistent use of cinematic visual grammar - he knows how to play the joke, but he does not how to stage it in a cinematic way. That flatness is very obvious in A Simple Favor, a story which features suspense, plot twists and a central character who is increasing paranoid about the intentions of the people around her. A few scenes have some flare (the discovery of the body) but overall the visual style never changes to reflect the shifts in the story and the characters - for one, we never really feel like we are getting inside Stephanie’s head, and the film's attempts at tension never really come off.

Overall, it is entertaining, and it is always watchable, but the tonal inconsistencies and lack of directorial verve keep it from really taking off.

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