On Sept. 14, the long-awaited suspense film “A Simple Favor” slunk into theaters, bringing with it all of the neo-noir and scandal that no one knew they needed until it was embodied in goddess-among-us actress Blake Lively. The film’s theatrical trailers were careful to give almost nothing away, allowing potential viewers just a taste of the mystery to come. However, with the draw of two female leads — successful boss babes Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively, no less — and an ominous disappearing-act storyline, the previews didn’t need to reveal much in order to draw crowds.
Stephanie, played by Kendrick, the doe-eyed, helicopter “mommy vlogger,” becomes the starstruck and gullible friend of mysterious and Holly-Golightly-esque Emily, played by Lively. The film unfolds from the disappearance that follows the latter woman’s request of a “simple favor” from the former. The two meet at their sons’ preschool, but their relationship gradually turns lethal when Emily asks Stephanie to pick up her son from school due to conflicts with work. When Emily never returns to pick up her son from Stephanie’s house, Stephanie goes digging for the truth behind her disappearance.
Because the trailers were so vague and foreboding, the film could have gone in any direction. The story had all the potential to be ridiculously corny, but instead, it pushed the limit in all the right ways. Both Lively and Kendrick embodied their characters and brought their own anecdotal personalities to the screen. Honestly, if “The Shallows,” Lively’s 2016 shark film, taught me anything, it’s that I would pay to see Blake Lively do just about anything on screen for two hours.
That being said, Emily was a return to Lively’s famous Serena van der Woodsen, her character in “Gossip Girl,” complete with a sinister twist and little bits of humanity sprinkled throughout — the character you love to hate. However, she maintained a sense of individuality amongst the masses of iconic female goddess-devils that have preceded her and resisted the fall into the realm of archetypes. Similarly, Kendrick showed her Stephanie’s descent from innocence into darkness with a flare of her own, culminating in a figure distinct from Kendrick’s previous roles.
Stephanie is the perfect mix between innocent bystander and troublemaker, and over the course of the film the audience wonders about the true content of her character, thus resisting the film’s potential to become the “Blake Lively Show.” Emily’s husband, Sean, played by Henry Golding, brought an interesting twist to the film, though he amounted to an overall dry character. It was difficult to tell by the end who was the true victim of the fallout, but perhaps that was the point.
The costumes and set design were near perfection. Emily’s deceptively transparent glass house and closet full of sleek designer clothes acted both as bolstering elements to the already unsettling storyline. Likewise, her perfectly tailored pantsuits and neckties toed the line of classy martini-drinking old-money girl and fashion risk-taker. Stephanie, on the other hand, was mom-chic through and through, making crafts and kid-friendly snacks at her spotless kitchen counter in bright colored cardigans, pencil skirts, and a middle part.
While there were, of course, elements that pushed the limit of believability and bordered on absurdity, the overall vibe of the film never suffered; in fact, it almost seemed as though the writers were hyperbolic on purpose. In the end, the film was satisfying and worth the money spent, for more reasons than just watching Blake Lively drink martinis and swear a lot.