The character trope of a beautiful, mysterious and impeccably dressed small-town mother of one alludes more to a drama or romantic comedy than a perplexing thriller. Anna Kendrick reads a lot more like a campy musical popstar than a stay-at-home mommy vlogger. Old-timey french music and avante-garde artwork makes for more of an independent studio film with vintage flavor than an East-Coast preppy murder mystery. But somehow in Lionsgate’s newest book adaptation, “A Simple Favor” makes a name for itself as the surreptitious, gorgeous, entrancing matronly whodunit, which is as creative as it is enticing.
Anna Kendrick plays Stephanie, a stay-at-home widowed mommy vlogger, originally a blogger in the 2017 behind-the-times novel, whose best friend Emily (Blake Lively) goes missing after asking Stephanie for a simple favor of watching her son while she’s away at work. She’s helped by Emily’s husband Sean (Henry Golding) in uncovering the truth of what really happened to Emily –– ultimately discovering secrets that make her question if her friendship was ever real at all.
Blake Lively playing a high-end fashionista is not a new step in her career, however, her portrayal of the dark and sexy Emily adds a lot to her acting canon. Her character is a lot more than meets the eye, and Blake Lively could have easily played her as a Serena van der Woodsen knock-off, misunderstood and wanting more out of life. Instead, Lively’s portrayal makes Emily a character of deeper dimension, a woman with a past, a rebel without a cause and a mother who would do anything for her son.
This deeper analysis of Emily’s character also plays into the film’s rich enhancement of the book’s original plot. The film completely diverts from the book’s ending, making for a more satisfying conclusion as well as giving the audience a deeper insight into the motivations behind the characters’ actions. While some backstories could have been further elaborated, the changes, overall, made for a more compelling film and made the audience react with a mix of shock, laughter and pleasure.
The film did have its dry moments, particularly right after Emily’s disappearance, and it was at these points in time when Kendrick’s portrayal stood out as a little misconstrued. Kendrick eventually plays her character as a lot less surface level than at first, but it is in these moments when it seems like a strange casting choice. She’s over-the-top peppy, and while that’s how Stephanie is portrayed in the book, it is a little disillusioning to see Kendrick take on this role. Toward the middle it’s clear that Kendrick portrays her character with more motivation and passion, but at the beginning something seems off, and it wasn’t just because her best friend was missing.
What “A Simple Favor” does that is spot on, however, is its diversification of characters’ sexualities as well as the film’s take on the traditional mother character. Emily is open with Stephanie about her bisexuality, and one of the biggest aids in solving her disappearance is Emily’s relationship with a renowned lesbian artist (Linda Cardellini). This sort of normalization is exactly the direction films of the modern era should be taking. The film also shows parenthood in a variety of forms, through Andrew Rannells’ portrayal of a single gay dad, as well as showing mothers and teachers of different backgrounds and ethnicities. It’s nice to see the film trying to diversify, especially when it comes to familial aspects.
The film’s modern standing on sexuality and maternity offers a nice contrast to the featured avante-garde artwork and French soundtrack. The movie’s music almost mimics that of an indie film, such as “Call Me By Your Name.” “A Simple Favor” could have easily played standard pop music. With big names like Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively along with a backing by Lionsgate, a huge production company, the film could’ve been just another attempt at a big business book adaptation. Instead, the movie branches out into refreshing and surprising vintage modernism.
“A Simple Favor” has moments that mimic a been-there-done-that thriller but for the most part manages to be a sexy noir, vintage foreign film and elegant mystery all in one. Moviegoers are doing themselves a simple favor when they get to observe this matronly fervor and female craftiness for themselves in theaters.
Contact Samantha Banchik at [email protected].
Samantha Banchik covers fashion. Contact her at [email protected].