“Oopsy.” This is what Stephanie (Anna Kendrick), an adorable polka dot wearing, pearl toting mommy vlogger says when she first meets Emily––the enigmatic high-exec mama played by Blake Lively––as they pick up their sons from preschool one day. With a sunshine personality that makes the best of us giggle and the worst of us want to vomit, Stephanie is a can-do single mom who carries around a helium tank to blow up kids’ balloons. “Do you drink?” Emily asks. Then, like a fairy godmother, Emily extends her polished hand and ushers her new friend into her enviable BMW, their boys trailing along to a playdate at her suburban mansion that feels like it’s meant for adults.
Directed by Paul Feig—known for screwy, female-led films like “The Heat” (2013) and “Bridesmaids” (2011)—“A Simple Favor” is a characteristically funny, champagne-flavored film. The script, which was adapted from the Darcey Bell novel, presents perfectly dizzying twists set to a sultry soundtrack of Brigitte Bardot. And like Bardot, Emily is a pill-popping stiletto-strutter who would as soon kiss you as she would kill you.
Emily teaches Stephanie many lessons throughout the film, which often take place on Emily’s buttercream couch as they sip martinis barefoot. Immediately, it is clear that these women are not typical BFF material. Emily is a genderbending, Marlene Dietrich femme who wears tailored pantsuits and works as a PR manager at a fashion house in New York City, while Kendrick’s Stephanie is in pursuit of cookie-cutter perfection and spends her days filming instructional videos at home for her vlog. Emily’s first lesson? Never saying sorry. “Baby, if you apologize again, I’m going to have to slap the sorry out of you,” Emily practically purrs to an overly penitent Stephanie. After a few cozy weeks of friendship, Emily asks her mommy friend if she will do her a simple favor: pick up her son Nicky from class the next day. It’s then that the real craziness begins.
A big chunk of “A Simple Favor” caters to the overplayed story arc of a high-profile, beautiful housewife gone missing to a T, along the lines of “Gone Girl” and “The Girl on the Train”. But the film digs more deeply into questions that challenge norms of female friendship and bisexuality while doling out a large, satisfying dose of family drama. Along the way we discover that Emily has a secret twin, that her dreamy husband is not as doe-eyed as he seems, and that mommy vloggers should never, ever be crossed. The soundtrack elevates this dark twist; no longer are we partying to the charming croons of Bardot. As the movie nears its climatic end, Louboutins will be thrown out of closets and power suits will be worn to a graveyard.
While the plot of the film is a recycled version of past flicks, the most electrifying moments are ignited by the intense chemistry between Lively and Kendrick. A modern Bonnie and Clyde duo, these two opposites attract to form the ultimate girl gang with disturbing effects. Yet the most disturbing takeaway from the film is that Stephanie, who is cut from a similar cloth to Emily, cannot recognize her own desires without seeing in the other woman what she wants most herself.