‘A Simple Favor’ Is A ‘Gone Girl’ Parody That’s Also Not A Parody, Or Is It?

Blake Lively And Anna Kendrick Cut Loose In Paul Feig’s Almost-Comedy

I saw the A Simple Favor movie. In an era primed to forever cinematically canonize Lady Gaga whether we want that or not, Blake Lively dominates the screen with a ridiculously sexy star turn that forces her into some outrageous outfits. She delivers a precise comic performance while also being as smokin’ noir hot as Sharon Stone or Kathleen Turner or Barbara Stanwyck in their primes. Here, an actual star is born.

courtesy of Lionsgate

That said, the movie is a little weird. It seems to be a note-for-note parody of Gone Girl, but then sometimes it also seems to take itself seriously as a mom-noir thriller in the vein of The Girl On The Train or The Woman In The Window. The tonal inconsistencies make it somewhat hard to watch, because you’re never quite sure what’s coming. The pop-culture artifact it most closely resembles is Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig’s bizarre Lifetime movie parody A Deadly Adoption, which also aired on Lifetime and almost never winks at you, making it all the funnier.

A SIMPLE FAVOR ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Paul Feig
Written by: Jessica Sharzer, Darcey Bell
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding, Eric Johnson, Jean Smart, Sarah Baker
Running time: 116 min.

A Simple Favor, on the other hand, winks at you at least every 15 minutes when it’s not bald-facedly saying “JK” or “LOL” or even mocking you for going to see these types of movies at all. Feig’s best movies pick one tone and stick with them. Bridesmaids was a mainstream romantic comedy with a touch of gross-out. Spy brilliantly and delightfully mocked James Bond, turning the whole genre on its head. On the other hand, The Heat married its buddy-comedy premise with needless gore, and while I liked the all-female Ghostbusters reboot more than most, it did keep shooting itself in the foot, like with the horribly unfunny running joke about Chinese takeout.

This movie takes the humorless but gripping missing-woman premise of ‘Gone Girl’  and jacks it up 100 times, throwing in evil twins and alcoholic spouses and incest and all matter of other unforgivable sins, mixes it in a blender, and spits it out as wacky pastiche. Lively plays the femme fatale, making Rosamund Pike’s performance in ‘Gone Girl’ look as disposable as a drinking straw. Henry Golding, of ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ fame, fares less well in the Ben Affleck role. He plays a genius novelist with abs of steel and a wandering winkie, the type of character who only appears in the movies. While he looks cute in the part and is obviously game for anything, he doesn’t ever seem to get why and how he’s supposed to be funny. He’s as bland as a watered-down martini.

Dancing into all this nonsense is Scrappy Little Nobody Anna Kendrick, doing her best Reese Witherspoon impersonation and giving it everything she’s got. While she pales in comparison to Lively (most people who’ve ever appeared on screen do, except for maybe Grace Kelly), they spar admirably and Kendrick gets to show off her remarkable musical-comedy chops in a delightful scene where she raps in a car.

  Courtesy of Lionsgate. 

That said, I’m not sure what we’re supposed to make of Kendrick’s character. Is she a plucky Nancy Drew-style girl detective, or a malicious psychopath in her own right? The ridiculous script is supposed to keep us guessing, but it’s really just confusing. The cop characters, of whom there are many, play snarky but weak. Rupert Friend turns in an weird and magnetic performance as a Manhattan fashion tycoon. Then there’s the Greek chorus of grade-school parents, clearly designed to mock the worst parts of Big Little Lies, but it ends up wasting the dry comic talents of the comedian Aparna Nancherla, who’s given nothing to do. On the other hand, Andrew Rannells, once the breakout star of The Book Of Mormon on Broadway, is so desperately unfunny that he almost ruins the movie, especially given the key role he plays at the end, which finally provides the Rosetta Stone as to how we were supposed to interpret everything. Rather than steal the show, he murders it. And he doesn’t even have an evil twin, as far as we know.

This concludes my review of the A Simple Favor movie.

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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 12 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer for both film and television, Neal has written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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