Okay, so A Simple Favor begins with a simple premise and then gets really fun afterward. The basic idea is that a woman, Emily (Blake Lively) is missing, and her best friend, Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) is trying to find her. Stephanie is a single mommy blogger—she makes vlogs for other mothers—who strives to be the perfect mother to her child. Emily works a high-profile job and doesn’t have the time or energy; neither does her husband, Sean (Henry Golding). A few nights before the movie opens, Emily called Stephanie and asked for A Simple Favor: watch her child for a few hours. She never returned.
The marketing for the film, as it rightfully should, has played up the mystery at the film’s core: What happened to Emily? It’s something that takes up a significant portion of the running time and focus. Stephanie becomes a pseudo-detective and tries to find clues as to Emily’s whereabouts, while the actual police officers and detectives begin to suspect, well, everyone—as does the audience. “What happened to Emily and who made it happen?” becomes the bigger question. “Why?” later gets added on. And then there are twists and turns that you probably won’t see coming that throw the whole thing into chaos.
It’s ridiculous. The film will remind viewers of 2014’s Gone Girl, also about a missing woman where things are not as they initially appear and where everyone is a suspect. But where A Simple Favor differs is in its tone. It revels in the weird, over-the-top story, and wants us to (bleakly) laugh alongside it. Gone Girl is silly, too, but director David Fincher kept it grounded. Paul Feig helmed A Simple Favor and he turned in a black comedy, which was probably the way to go and keep it from feeling too much like a Gone Girl knockoff.
Of course, A Simple Favor isn’t going to reach the heights of a Fincher movie, but that doesn’t make it fun in its own right. It’s got some stylistic flourish, there’s a hint or two at self-awareness, there are more than a few laughs, the mystery is compelling and will keep you guessing—if only because of how silly it gets—and its lead actors are up to the task. If it’s lacking, it’s in its character depth and how it doesn’t have enough room to breathe. In both cases, a longer running time would have benefited.
A Simple Favor is the type of movie you want to watch with as little knowledge as you can going into it. The less you know, the better for the experience. All you need to know is that, in order to enjoy it, you need to be willing to embrace its ridiculousness. The film will help you with that: it has a more comedic and self-aware tone than mysteries typically do. Its cast is game, it’s twisty and turny to the point where there may be times at which you have no clue what’s going on, and it’s got a wicked sense of humor. If you want a mystery movie that subverts some of the genre’s tropes and, above all, is a bunch of fun, then A Simple Favor is your movie.
Conclusion: A Simple Favor is a stylish and fun mystery movie.
Recommendation: If you like mysteries or dark comedies, A Simple Favor is worth checking out.