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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

A Simple Favour movie review: suburban mom stumbles into mystery!

A Simple Favor green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
Witty, tense, and thrilling, but also cheerful, escapist, and fun, this is a perfect cinematic cozy mystery, kept on an even keel by the irresistibly charming Anna Kendrick. Merrily absurd pure entertainment.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): I’m desperate for stories about women
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
I have not read the source material
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, female screenwriter, female protagonist
(learn more about this)

Nancy Drew” is how someone not very nice sneeringly describes stay-at-home mom turned accidental detective Stephanie Smothers late in the delightful mystery game that is A Simple Favour. It’s meant as an insult, of course, but for everyone who knows that it’s not, that Nancy Drew was a badass girl hero, this movie has your back. More than has your back, even. Witty, tense, and thrilling, Favour is without doubt the most perfect cinematic version of a “cozy” mystery — the subgenre in which Nancy Drew is an icon — in a long while. Maybe ever. I can’t even recall the last time a movie that qualified as a cozy ended up on the big screen.

“Damn, @NancyDrewMom is already taken on Twitter...”

“Damn, @NancyDrewMom is already taken on Twitter…”

What’s a cozy, you ask? Cozies are the “nice” crime stories, the ones that don’t focus on blood and gore, the ones that don’t feature hard-bitten cops or alcoholic PIs, the ones that don’t wallow in angst and misery. Their detectives are amateurs, often ones who never even imagined themselves solving mysteries yet discover an unexpected knack for it. Cozies are cheerful, escapist, and fun, even when they revolve around dead bodies. Unfortunately, it’s probably because the hugely popular cozy subgenre of crime fiction is overwhelmingly written by women authors about female characters and consumed by women readers that so few cozies, either adapted or original, end up as movies (TV likes them, though). Or maybe it’s just that the men of Hollywood have been scared off by the tonal juggling act that cozies represent: How do you stay bubbly and charming about serious crime? Easier to just stay with grim and bloody.

Enter director Paul Feig. Feig has been trying to tell women’s stories for years now, with mixed results. His Bridesmaids was hit-and-miss. The Heat was cold. But with his last movie Spy, he found a winning mix of comedy, suspense, and feminism. He gets it absolutely right again — with a completely different mix of comedy, suspense, and feminism in a completely different kind of story — with Favour. (Although, you know, maybe a woman director could have been getting it right all along.) His first great decision: casting Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect 3, The Accountant) as Stephanie. So much of how Favour keeps an even keel as it traverses such wildly emotional and contentious subjects as female friendships, domestic discord, marital secrets, and maternal competition is down to Kendrick’s irresistible onscreen persona: kind but never cloying, smart but a little unsure of herself, able to bolster her own confidence but not cocky about it, stylish but not showy, full of personality but not self-consciously quirky. She is at once Everywoman but also aspirational: we all want to be her, and it doesn’t seem outside the realm of possibility that we actually could be her. Or at least we could be her bestie.

It’s always mommy-martini o’clock somewhere...

It’s always mommy-martini o’clock somewhere…

That makes Kendrick’s Stephanie a consummate cozy heroine. As she becomes when her friend, Emily (Blake Lively: The Shallows, The Age of Adaline), disappears mysteriously. Emily had asked Stephanie to do her a simple favor: to collect her son from school — their kids are classmates and pals — as Stephanie had done before, because Emily was stuck at work. But then Emily doesn’t come home that evening. Or the next day. Or the next. And she’s not answering her phone or returning calls or texts.

What happened to Emily? Did Stephanie fall so quickly into her best-friend crush with brash Emily that she overlooked warning signs of trouble in the other woman’s life? Did they hit it off too quickly and too intensely, especially for two women who couldn’t be more different, intimidating Emily with her glamorous fashion PR job in the big city and down-to-earth suburban Stephanie who volunteers for every chore at her son’s school and sunnily shares her whole life on her mommy vlog? Could there perhaps have been something nefarious in Emily’s befriending of Stephanie? Or is Emily just the self-absorbed flake and desultory mom she appears to be?

I will accept any excuse to post a picture of Henry Golding.

I will accept any excuse to post a picture of Henry Golding.

This is based on the 2017 novel by Darcey Bell that has been likened to Gone Girl, but that’s too small a comparison, at least for how screenwriter Jessica Sharzer had adapted it for the screen. (I haven’t read the book.) Serious matters are broached here, and feminist matters — Emily’s admonition to Stephanie to stop reflexively apologizing for everything is pointedly handled — but A Simple Favour is more interested in distracting us from reality than criticizing it. As Emily’s absence stretches out and widow Stephanie gets closer to Emily’s grieving husband, Sean (Crazy Rich Asians hottie Henry Golding), some dark turns and increasing twistedness never impinge on the movie’s bounce (aided by Feig’s unexpected but inspired choice of some sprightly French pop music for the soundtrack). And Kendrick effortlessly retains our sympathy even as Stephanie slowly is revealed not to be the inoffensively pleasant paragon she appears at first. (If there is any cinematic justice, this movie will catapult Kendrick to a new level of stardom.)

We are left for a long while to whip up our own theories about what is going on; I had some that were completely contradictory yet all seemingly plausible within the merrily absurd context. The ridiculousness of it all couldn’t be more purely entertaining. And that is absolutely wonderful. A Simple Favour made me forget everything outside it for two hours. I have to adore any movie that can manage that.


Click here for my ranking of this and 2018’s other theatrical releases.


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green light 5 stars

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A Simple Favor | directed by Paul Feig
US/Can release: Sep 14 2018
UK/Ire release: Sep 20 2018

MPAA: rated R for sexual content and language throughout, some graphic nude images, drug use and violence
BBFC: rated 15 (strong language, sex references, drug misuse, violence)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • Tyler Foster

    Spy wasn’t Feig’s last movie!

  • Bluejay
  • Tonio Kruger

    And here I thought I had a thing for obscure pop culture references…

  • Tyler Foster

    On one hand, I think, how could anyone possibly forget such a loud, extended, stupid controversy. As a lifelong Ghostbusters fan, I learned deeply unfortunate things about fellow “fans” and their horrifying misogyny that (sigh, of course) still poison the well today. I still find myself yelling at morons in fan page comment sections about some bitter nonsense about the Ghostbusters 3 they were “promised” or insane (and demonstratably incorrect) YouTube conspiracy theories.

    On the other hand, the two years between 2016 and 2018 have lasted one million years.

  • Bluejay

    True. Also, the sheer awesomeness of one of the actors may have overwritten the data in our brains and convinced us she takes credit for the whole thing, including directing it. It’s perfectly natural to remember Ghostbusters as a movie written, directed, and produced by Kate McKinnon, starring Kate McKinnon, Kate McKinnon, Kate McKinnon, Kate McKinnon, and Chris Hemsworth.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Holtzmann is love, Holtzmann is life

  • Tonio Kruger

    Actually, once I got past that stupid controversy, I found the last Ghostbusters movie to be surprisingly forgettable. (Yes, I know. Heresy.) It was not as bad as Ghostbusters II but despite all the references to previous movies and Ms. McKinnon’s performance, it did not exactly appear to be an instant classic.

    Then again they did not make it for me so I wasn’t really surprised.

  • Danielm80

    And if you happen to be watching TV right this second, you can see Ghostbusters on FX, and on another channel you can see this:

    https://youtu.be/J74hHQgCjrc

  • LaSargenta

    Or you can always watch this:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PUQysTg6CGg

  • I used his list of IMDB credits… and since when the hell is the 2016 *Ghostbusters* titled *Ghostbusters: Answer the Call*? That threw me off.

    I’ve made a minor change in the review to acknowledge your correction. Thanks.

  • LaSargenta

    (Btw, how did I not already upvote this? Is Disqus playing around again?)

  • Tyler Foster

    The line Feig gives is about studio cataloging, so they can tell one apart from the other. It’s dumb and seems like a lie. More likely, Sony saw the backlash in 2015/2016 and got cold feet. The opening titles of the movie say “Ghostbusters,” as does the billing block on the posters and home video, but the end credits (even theatrically) have “Answer the Call” underneath the title, as do many of the the video front covers, some of the posters, and a few TV spots.

    I hate it, because it feels like kowtowing to whiners like the Angry Video Game Nerd, who apparently has never heard of decades of remakes that have the same titles as their originals…not to mention the sequels (Halloween) and prequels (The Thing) that do this too…

  • Bluejay

    More likely, Sony saw the backlash in 2015/2016 and got cold feet.

    I don’t understand. “Answer the Call” was added because of the whining fanboy backlash? What did Sony hope to accomplish? How does changing the title affect the backlash in any way at all?

  • Tyler Foster

    Just one way to symbolically inch it away from the original, to not let it just be what it is, a remake of Ghostbusters that is also called Ghostbusters. Like I mentioned, the title is a something the fanboy-beloved “Angry Video Game Nerd” devoted time to in a 10+-minute video exclusively outlining his complaints about the new movie: “Why does it have to be called ‘Ghostbusters’?” He specifically wanted it to have a subtitle.

    Before the movie came out, I argued with many people about how I felt it needed to take place in a new universe and not be a sequel, because if there’s going to be this new team of ladies, then the accomplishments should at least be wholly theirs in the world of the film. To me, the idea of a hypothetical version of this movie that was a sequel rather than a clean slate remake was just an annoying way for the whiny fanboys to get the emptiest accomplishment: acknowledgment. It’s not enough to just know, as we all know, that Ghostbusters already existed once and that IP is being leveraged to make a new movie. Not enough that everyone living was involved with it, including Harold Ramis’s children. In their eyes, the film itself needs to also pat these guys on the head and affirm, “yes, you were here first!” in the canon, in the text. The subtitle feels like the same thing. “Ghostbusters: Answer the Call” is “Ghostbusters: The OTHER One.”

  • Bluejay

    I felt it needed to take place in a new universe and not be a sequel, because if there’s going to be this new team of ladies, then the accomplishments should at least be wholly theirs in the world of the film.

    That’s what it turned out to be, right? I don’t think the deeds of the older Ghostbusters were mentioned at all.

    Agree with you on all you said. Fuck toxic fandom.

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