(Release Info London schedule; September 18th, 2018, Empire Leicester Square, 20:00)
"A Simple Favor"
"A Simple Favor", a stylish post-modern suburban noir directed by Paul Feig, centers around Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick), a mommy vlogger who seeks to uncover the truth behind her best friend Emily Nelson's (Blake Lively) sudden disappearance from their small town. Stephanie is joined by Emily's husband Sean (Henry Golding) in this stylish thriller filled with twists and betrayals, secrets and revelations, love and loyalty, murder and revenge.
Assume nothing about the two mothers at the center of this fresh and deliciously twisted stylish thriller. Surfaces may be bright and polished, but no one is what they seem. At the core of this story is an unlikely film noir protagonist, the sunny and practical suburban mommy vlogger, Stephanie. Stephanie’s perky search for domestic bliss, friendship and killer recipes accidentally leads her into a mad tangle of dirty secrets and fatal lies when she meets ultra-glamorous mom, Emily. When Stephanie is first approached by Emily to come over for a playdate, she's intrigued. Emily is mysterious and alluring with her super-posh lifestyle; a city job in high fashion, a sexy British author husband and an impeccably modern, showcase house. Stephanie is flattered when Emily seems to quickly latch onto her as a confidante and new best friend.
She appears to be the ultimate insider, and Stephanie feels like she has cracked into a world of her most extravagant mommy dreams. 'I need a simple favor', Emily says one afternoon. Without hesitation, Stephanie eagerly agrees to take Emily’s son, Nicky, home with her after school one day. However, simple becomes complicated when Emily disappears completely, leaving Stephanie with her son and not a single clue. Following her own moms, everything yourself credo, Stephanie takes it upon herself, with the help of her social media followers, to find her missing friend. She has no idea just how convoluted this mystery will become as boundaries of friendship and loyalty are tested and lurid truths are unburied. Stephanie is about to enter an inky-black, nerve-wracking journey into deception, duplicity and transgressions, including her own.
Stephanie is someone we all know, the mom whose whole life is all about being a people pleaser and always doing nice things for others; and who's taken advantage of because of that. We root for her, even as she’s having her eyes opened to the darkness all around her. She also has a lot of blinders on, and those blinders get peeled off the hard way starting from the moment Emily disappears. As successful and controlling as she's, Emily’s life turns out to be anything but stable. When we first meet Emily, she’s very provocative and unflappable, but then we find out she’s also incredibly vulnerable. Her personality is multifaceted. She’s lived so many different and dangerous lives. Stephanie goes through the biggest transformation in this movie because she starts out as what we think is the perfect mom, but when she feels screwed over, that's when she starts to crack open and take on the best attributes of Emily; the drive, the ambition, the not-taking-no-for-an-answer. She becomes more skeptical of human nature and uses it to good effect. Stephanie is upbeat and always seeing the bright side, so she can be a little insufferable. When it comes to her relationship with Emily, she’s willing to put up with a lot of abuse because it’s preferable to her loneliness. And Stephanie also wants validation from Emily. That's something a lot of women experience to some degree in some friendships.
In Stephanie and Emily, you've two very different women, a stay-at-home mom and an ambitious career woman, who would never have been friends had it not been for their sons. To up the visual fun, the film turns Stephanie from a blogger to a vlogger. While the book switches points-of-view, the film keeps Stephanie as the center of the action in every scene. We then watch her as her can-do mommy persona weathers a breathless storm of suspicion, catastrophe and psychological warfare. Stephanie tries so hard, yet she knows she’s mocked by the other mothers. Her vlog followers are really her only friends, but they’re her surrogate friends. So she's lonely and she’s also haunted by sins in her past, and all that has informed her desire to become the perfect mom. Emily is so fashionable and slick, but it’s also a façade. Intriguingly, both Emily and Stephanie have dark pasts, but they hide them in very different ways; Stephanie by baking healthy cookies and Emily by working in high fashion, which is all about surfaces and mystique. This is the ‘beatific wife' or this is the ‘bossy bitch,’ but in this film you might think Stephanie is the chirpy mom you want to make fun of, but then you start realizing maybe your perception isn’t quite right. Stephanie has other sides to her and she’s got all these secrets.
Sean (Henry Golding) is Emily’s dashing, but disillusioned husband, who seems to be befuddled by her disappearance, and increasingly turns to Stephanie for solace and support and more. Sean was once a celebrated writer and the talk of the town in New York so this led to him being chased by Emily. She was very seductive, powerful and strong, but it became a toxic relationship because eventually she became his everything when he stopped writing. When Emily goes missing, and he’s so distraught, he finds compassion and comfort with Stephanie, and it’s something he’s never experienced. Adding to those twists and turns from more innocent points of view are Stephanie’s son, Miles (Joshua Satine) and Emily’s son, Nicky (Ian Ho); both who echo their mother's rivalry as things get more and more complicated. Nicky is a little spitfire who knows more than anyone believes, and Miles is like an extension of Stephanie, in that Stephanie has hidden away from him anything that is sad and dark.
Darcey Bell’s 2017 debut novel 'A Simple Favor' quickly drew notice as one of that year’s most addictive reads, keeping readers up late frantically turning pages. It also stood out as something distinctive and of-the-moment. For within it's twisty web of betrayal and revenge, also lay a cutting exploration of a mommy blogger navigating the overwhelming age of modern motherhood; complete with all it's fierce protectiveness, social media competitiveness, loneliness, envy and endless search for getting it absolutely perfect. The book takes a different attitude. The book always has it's tongue firmly planted in it's cheek. The film upend the woman-in-peril storyline that has become a staple of entertainment. Instead, she toys with our familiarity with the structure, but also subverts it.
This movie is a twisting suspense thriller, but also a tasty satire on our constant striving for the flawlessly-curated 21st century life. The film really defies comparisons, which is what people are going to like about it. There are pieces you can isolate or compare to other things, but ultimately it really feels new and fresh with influences from many genres. The lure of "A Simple Favor" ìs that it seemed to have all the ingredients; a nail-biting plot, diabolical imagination, tongue-in-cheek humor, characters of never-ending psychological complications and a deceivingly serene suburban setting; to let him stretch the expected shape of the thriller form. The film is definitely funny, but it also takes you through a whole range of emotions and major twists and turns that haven’t explored before.
Thrilling things happen in the daylight rather than in darkly lit rooms. In the suburbs, there's not a lot of hiding among the white walls and bright windows. You see what's going on, at least in the open. It's a story about the nature of secrets, how they ripple outward, informing our relationships and lives, but it’s also about women’s choices. This is a theme that underpins the soaring popularity of domestic noir as a cultural phenomenon; that women are required to choose a role to play in life and also penalized for breaking out of those roles. This story looks at how different women decide between career and children. What are the compromises we make on both sides, and what do we lose when we make them. Unfolding in a deceptively placid Connecticut greenbelt, "A Simple Favor" brings a distinctively sunlit, color-splashed façade to the darkest of movie genres. It's the idea of a 21st century suburban noir and to starkly contrast the beauty and lightness of the film’s visual design with the ceaselessly turbulent turns of Stephanie and Emily’s story.
The story as harking back to 'The Golden Age of Hollywood’s' thrillers with their comic-tinged theatricality, but also unsettling undercurrents. “A Simple Favor" pays homage to those hyper stylized, thrilling films with a tense storyline and characters who are purposely a bit over the top. We've different iterations of ourselves that we put out into the world; our social media personality versus who we're at home vs who we're at work, etc. In this film there’s an interesting examination of that, who we're vs who we present ourselves to be. Women are nurtured to strive to maintain a certain level of perfection, whether outward or inward, but we're all imperfect and that’s a conversation that’s much more awesome than perfection. Exposing true selves is something the characters ultimately do in this film. And you love them all the more for it. The result is a film that keeps the audience guessing and questioning what they’re seeing and feeling for nearly every second of its running time, right up through the final frame. Each reveal in the film is more fun and shocking than the last and keeps you on the edge of your seat. It’s the kind of film that has so many hidden foreshadowing moments that it will be really fun to watch over and over.