A Simple Favor
“A couple instances of queerness sneak into A Simple Favor.”
Title: A Simple Favor
Director: Paul Feig 👨🏼🇺🇸
Writers: Screenplay by Jessica Sharzer 👩🏼🇺🇸 based on the novel by Darcey Bell 👩🏼🇺🇸
Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
A Simple Favor easily entertains its audiences, but get ready for a circuitous ramble through a maze of plot turns. While no scenes feel gratuitous—every subplot neatly serves its broader mystery—the final product still manages to resemble an overstuffed turkey.
That said, Paul Feig reminds us why he’s a comedic powerhouse. As the director of Bridesmaids and Spy, Feig similarly hits his jokes in A Simple Favor like quivering bullseyes. But between the ever-present undercurrent of comedy, paired with a twisting thriller plot that seems to take itself pretty seriously despite its overt levels of camp, viewers suffer from whiplash trying to keep up with what tone the film will strike next.
Anna Kendrick as mommy vlogger Stephanie Smothers, and Blake Lively as the cutthroat friend Emily Nelson, who goes missing early in the film, team up to create a wonderful study in contrasts. Different as the two women are, they acquire a believable friendship based on loneliness and secret-spilling.
Stephanie and Blake present the focal point of the movie, and even though Emily disappears from screen early on, her presence remains palpable through each and every scene.
This natural centering of women makes sense, once you consider who’s crafting the story. Screenwriter Jessica Sharzer adapted the fictional novel by Darcey Bell—incidentally, both Iowa-born women—and director Feig has illustrated a strong body of work that celebrates women.
My only quibble in this category is the lack of positive female relationships. Stephanie’s onscreen interactions and backstory both orbit men. During the film, she spends much of her time playing the perfect mother to both her own son and Emily’s, and she finds herself entangled with Emily’s husband Sean Townsend (Henry Golding). Eventually, we discover her dark past, as Stephanie found herself involved in a slightly twisted, but thrilling attraction to a man she shouldn’t have been attracted to.
As for Emily, her backstory involves family and another female character, but all of it is distinctly antagonistic. For this film to really champion of women, I would have wanted to see either more examples of female relationships, or a better variety of them. Instead, A Simple Favor projects the overwhelming sense that women are pitted against each other, vying for individual success.
The film does a fantastic job of showing different ethnicities in a natural and realistic way. For starters, Henry Golding—who is half-Malaysian and half-English—sees just as much screen time as Lively, if not more. It’s great seeing a romantic male lead of Asian descent, and even though much of his onscreen sizzle is delivered through an elegant English accent, the fact remains that this is a positive step forward in dispelling the stereotypes of Asian men in American media.
Sean’s son, Nicky (Ian Ho), is mixed-race. Together, the Townsend-Nelson family helps normalize the picture of an interracial family.
Outside of Golding and Ho, supporting and minor roles are also fairly diverse. The lead detective on Emily’s missing persons case is played by Bashir Salahuddin, who is black; the TA that Sean is alluded to having an affair with is played by Melissa O’Neil, who is half-Chinese and half-Irish; and one of the fellow parents at the daycare attended by both Stephanie and Emily is played by comedian Aparna Nancherla, of Indian descent.
Still, the thrust of A Simple Favor is driven by two white leads, so the overall narrative remains firmly rooted in a white perspective.
Bonus for LGBTQ: +0.25
A couple instances of queerness sneak into A Simple Favor. The straightforward one includes the small but important role of Darren (Andrew Rannells), a gay dad whose primary function is to throw shade at Stephanie and to corral the small group of moms who band together as friends of convenience, smoking weed and watching the drama unfold between Stephanie and Emily like it’s their personal entertainment. While Darren is pretty stereotypical—a cisgender white gay man with a sassy personality—I appreciate that he enjoys a slightly more nuanced relationship with Stephanie that is neither purely antagonistic, nor unquestioningly supportive.
Secondly, Emily herself appears to be bisexual, or at least open to threesomes with her husband and another woman as the film mentions. While Kevin O’Keeffe of Into calls this “refreshing...that the character’s bisexuality isn’t made into a nefarious detail about her,” I actually interpreted this differently. To me, Emily did feel like the villain to this story and the fact of her being sexually fluid didn’t seem to help her case, as the movie builds her up to be someone who is amoral through various characterizations, not the least of which includes her sexual exploits.
Finally, what’s to be made of The Kiss—the moment between Emily and Stephanie? I found myself rooting for the direction the film seemed to take. After all, it makes perfect sense that the deep and instantaneous connection between the two female leads is borne of sexual tension. That said, considering that the film doesn’t take the moment anywhere else, it feels anti-climatic at best, or an annoying use of the male gaze at worst.
Mediaversity Grade: B 4.00/5
I don’t know that the film itself is very memorable, but at least you won’t be annoyed by stereotypes or misogyny while you’re watching A Simple Favor.