This female-fronted comedy-thriller is meh to the max | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

A Simple Favor
Opens Friday 14

2.5 out of 5

Director Paul Feig is someone women would call an ally. He not only helmed two of the most successful female-centric comedies in history (Bridesmaids and The Heat), he stood by the Ghostbusters reboot as it was ravaged by trolls everywhere. The film ultimately failed at the box-office, but Feig’s reputation remains stellar.

I had my share of problems with Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, but not nearly as many as I have with A Simple Favor, a lighter take on pulpy thrillers like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. Even though they deserve to be lampooned mercilessly, the only way these adaptations work is by taking the source material seriously. Feig adopts a middle-of-the-road approach that falls apart midway through, in spite of stellar work by Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively.

The film starts well enough: Stephanie (Kendrick) is a mommy vlogger, a busybody reminiscent of Election’s Tracy Flick who puts the other parents to shame with her Martha Stewartesque tyranny. Stephanie meets her match (of sorts) in Emily (Lively), a stylish publicist whose parental skills are seriously lacking.

Stephanie and Emily become friends but while the former bares her soul, the latter keeps a healthy distance. Emily doesn’t even let people take her photo (MASSIVE RED FLAG HERE).

It’s not a spoiler to say that one-third into the movie Emily disappears, leaving her child furious at the world and a husband (Henry Golding, Crazy Rich Asians) in need of a shoulder to cry on. Enter Stephanie, ready to serve as surrogate mommy and console the hunky husband. What are friends for?

For all the red herrings and twists Feig crams into two hours A Simple Favor is surprisingly predictable. The setup works just fine, but every new discovery in Stephanie’s investigation into Emily’s whereabouts makes the movie shakier. The conclusion is an inelegant plot dump and a lazy resolution. I suspect plenty of material ended up in the cutting floor, particularly because despite rushing through the book to reach the end, A Simple Favor is rather long for a comedic thriller (nearly two hours).

Kendrick plays to her strengths — the prissy overachiever who somehow manages to stay likeable. Blake Lively is more of a surprise. Instead of playing the ingénue (her go-to character), she goes for a self-assured cipher and gets far more mileage as such. I’d have been happier watching these two hanging out in ridiculous outfits for two hours than the movie we got. Keep the fabulous French-tinted soundtrack.

One final note: If you want to make vlogging a plot device in your movie, it would be great if you knew what you were talking about. Check out Eighth Grade for pointers.