Genre mash ups can be a bit problematic. Usually they are used to mask the fact that there is a lack of ideas to complete a movie and due to committee consensus other elements are added in an effort to make something half decent and possibly face saving. A Simple Favour does not feel like this at all. It is a mixture of thriller and comedy which is blended nicely together, each facet complementing the other.
Stephanie (Anna Kendrick), a go-getter single mom is introduced to Emily through their children. Emily is the complete package with the beautiful house, handsome husband and high powered job. Stephanie is immediately drawn to her. For her part Emily sees someone who is straightforward and easy to drink and chat with. After a couple of weeks of meet up while the kids play Stephanie gets a call from Emily asking her to pick up her son from school. She agrees and takes the child home. As the hours pass she cannot get a hold of Emily and as it goes in to the next day she gets worried. Emily is declared missing and the search for her begins in earnest. Something doesn’t ring true with Stephanie and she decides to start digging into her friend’s life starting with her husband and her job.
This is a nice mixture of both the mystery and comedic elements. It is played out in a light manner which lets you know that although some of the subjects touched are serious, the film doesn’t want you to really go there. Just enjoy the ride for what it is. As soon as you realise that then the movie becomes quite enjoyable. There is a nice build up in tension over the first thirty minutes of the run time. Through some fast paced and witty dialogue the various strands of the plot are teased out. When Emily finally disappears everything is in place for the you to really go with it.
The two leads are really very good, especially in the scenes where they are together. There is a real feel that this is like a 1930s screwball comedy at times with the snappy, fast paced conversations that see the Emily and Stephanie overlapping their sentences and going off in tangents for humorous effect, only to jump right back to the main story. Kendrick is well within her comfort zone as the single mom. She has played variations on this role before and she uses that knowledge to good effect in subverting expectations. Even though we think we have a handle on her motives and actions, the script and Kendrick’s performance starts to cause doubts which in turn makes you focus on something that may not be what it seems. Lively on the other hand is as you would expect. Her portrayal of the rather nasty, foul mouthed Emily is spot on. There is no need for her to change during the film. She is what she is and this allows the character of Stephanie to play off of her on more and more interesting ways.
Right from the first scene the audience gets an idea of the dynamic of the main leads. Stephanie is portrayed as a typical perfect mom. She is volunteering for everything and all her attention an effort is focused on her son and his well being. At the school gates she meets Emily for the first time and the contrast is there to see. Stephanie is plain, simply dressed and reserved, Emily is dressed in an executive trouser suit, is made up and has the poise and attitude of the alpha in the group. It is from this base that the story develops. As the balance shifts the difference between them becomes less apparent. Stephanie starts to take on the look and feel of her friend without it being a copy or imitation. As her status grows within the friendship so does her sense of self worth.
This esteem she craves is also identified by her need for popularity. The story is told through the use of Stephanie’s VLOG. Her first post is the basis for the introduction to the story. It is when we go back do we see the origins of the VLOG and why it is important. She needs to connect to people. It is part of who she is and is a way to try to make sense of her past. Giving advice to strangers seems like a way to do this. The rise in the popularity of the VLOG is in part down to the fact that she is in the middle of the story of Emily’s disappearance. On more than one occasion she is told that people only tuned into it to make fun of her but then got caught up in the whole tale and as an aside took on board some of the parenting and lifestyle tips that Stephanie was discussing. It’s a clever way to get information across without is seeming like an exposition dump.
A Simple Truth doesn’t set out to be a hard hitting thriller. The comedy really informs the mood that it is trying to achieve and the film works all the better for not taking itself totally seriously.