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Mystery thriller A Simple Favor mixes black comedy and satire

Anna Kendrick swings her way with panache through this fun-poker at American middle-class values

21 September, 2018 — By By Dan Carrier

Anna Kendrick in A Simple Favour

A SIMPLE FAVOR
Directed by Paul Feig
Certificate 15
☆☆☆☆

Like some kind of Modernist costume drama, with characters that are overwritten to make a point as subtle as a Trumpian tweet, Paul Feig has slipped from his usual stomping ground of straight-up schmuck-about comedy to something a little more cerebral – though a little being the operative word.

This Anna Kendrick vehicle is a fun-poker at American middle-class values with the cloak of a mystery thriller thrown over it.

The aptly named Stephanie Smothers (Kendrick) is the do-goody single mum, desperate to make friends, desperate to do all she can for her little boy, with a painful backstory that gradually emerges which makes you think this is a grotesque caricature created during a drunken game of consequences at a screenwriters’ brainstorming beano.

We meet her as she is speaking into a laptop, doing a vlog which is about being an all-American mum: think cooking muffins and chocolate brownies, making Thanksgiving decorations, friendship bracelets and the like…

At the opposite ends of the motherhood spectrum is Emily (Blake Lively), the mysterious high-flyer who downs a Martini at school pick-up time, wears the latest fashions, has a house to die for and a seemingly delicious relationship with her famous author of a husband.

The two become unlikely chums, though it is an unbalanced relationship – especially in the eyes of the gossiping parents who also have their kids at the school.

Steph and Emily confide in each other after drinks, and slowly Emily begins to rely on Steph more and more to help with after-school childcare and other domestic chores that her PR job in the big city doesn’t allow her to do.

Then, bang, Emily disappears – prompting her new friend to seek out answers as to what has happened to her and turn detective to unravel a mystery that gets bigger and bigger as each scene slips by.

This film is a strange breed: a mixture of black comedy, satire and a thriller thrown in. At times it works – some of the observational stuff is excellent, and the whole thing is carried brilliantly by Kendrick – a fine comic actor, ably helped by Lively, who also swings her way with panache through what is needed.

You want to know what happens next. There are some ace surprises, and the characters involved keep you grimacing. But the preposterousness, at first a laugh, does wears thin. It straddles too many genres to work properly – a jack of all trades, master of none, but worth the trip solely due to Kendrick’s fantastic turn.

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