Saturday, December 29, 2018

Movie Reviews: A Simple Favor

A Simple Favor
directed by Paul Feig
Neo-noir that looks good but mixes in just a little too much comedy for my taste.
This movie was based on a book which I haven't read; it also owes quite a bit to the French movie Diabolique, which it indeed name checks.  A Simple Favor carries some DNA  from such works as Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys series, the first of which is also referenced, as well as the works of V.C. Andrews and Hanna Barbera's Scooby Doo, which are not credited. I bet that the movie toned down a few things from the book. The film also normalizes some things I don't think should be normalized. I am mildly curious if the book took the same approach. But just mildly.

I didn't identify with the leads but that's ok. Neither lead is all that sympathetic. If you are looking for a movie with well defined heroes, or in this case heroines, this movie lacks those. Or perhaps I am being a tad judgmental. You would have to see the film for yourself. 

This film is set in suburban Connecticut. Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) plays the role in this film that would normally be played by a man in a traditional film noir-the easy going regular fellow who gets pulled into a dangerous world by the sultry leggy mysterious blonde.

Here the leggy blonde is Emily (Blake Lively).  Stephanie's attraction to Emily is not sexual, or rather I should say not completely sexual as there is an abortive makeout session between the two women. 

No, Stephanie's interest in Emily is more aspirational than erotic. The two women, both mothers, (Stephanie is a widow who lives off her life insurance proceeds and runs a vlog on mothering and lifestyle tips) meet when their young sons want to have an after school playdate 

The two women are very different. Stephanie is boiling over with repressed sexual desire. She handles this by working on her vlog and volunteering for absolutely everything at her son's school, something that other parents mock her for both behind her back and to her face. She buys her clothes from Target and lives in a modest home. 

Emily lives in a mansion. Emily appears to be a woman who doesn't repress anything. Often braless and utterly unconcerned about cursing in front of her son, Emily thinks that confrontation, sex, and refusal to ever apologize are the best tools for women to get what they want. The PR director for an up and coming NYC fashion designer, the sexually blunt Emily is always dressed to the nines and sipping a martini. Despite herself Stephanie admires Emily. 

Emily has a life size nude portrait of herself in her home. Emily is married to Sean (Henry Golding). The English born Sean was once the next big writer du jour, but that was almost a decade ago. Since that time he hasn't written or published anything else and earns his daily bread as a college English professor. Sean may earn less than Emily. Emily tweaks her husband about his relative lack of success.

When Emily notices that her son and Stephanie seem to be hitting it off Emily asks Stephanie to pick up her son from school on the evenings when Emily works late. 

Emily requests this favor so often that other parents think that Stephanie is doing unpaid nanny work. But things go sideways when one night Emily doesn't show up to retrieve her son. 

The movie's focus and mood shifts. We've seen that Stephanie has her own secrets. Stephanie looks into Emily's background to try to solve the mystery of what happened to her friend. Kendrick has more screen time than Lively and makes good use of it. She goes back and forth among a myriad of different character interpretations. Is Stephanie just a sweet naive widow or is she a hustler on the make?  Is Stephanie using Emily's situation to get more likes and mentions and advertising for her vlog? When faced with danger Stephanie is often self-assured; some of this is shown to be influence from Emily. Emily dislikes having her picture taken. Her smile, oft employed for sex appeal, can also be a mask.

I thought that film's final portion had too many twists, kinks and convoluted storylines. Feig played some things for laughs which I didn't find that funny. Of course YMMV.  This movie might be ok if you're looking for two actresses in dramatic lead roles. You may enjoy putting together the clues. I am sure that some jokes and references to female clothing and styles went over my head. There is minor violence, plenty of suspense, and some cleavage.
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