“A Simple Favor” is a who-dun-it mystery that uses the backdrop of suburban tedium to engage the audience.
The film, directed by Paul Feig, features vlogger Stephanie Smothers, played by Anna Kendrick, and public relations executive Emily Nelson, played by Blake Lively. Smothers and Nelson become acquainted after exchanging dark confessions during their sons’ playdate, and soon after Nelson disappears.
The two main characters could not be more different. They effectively represent the two modes of the human psyche. Stephanie Smothers is a demure, single mother who has a hard time fitting in anywhere, and especially not in the lavish world that Nelson lives in. Her world is a crystal-clear picture into the passive side of human beings. It is only through her interactions with Emily Nelson does she evolve into something more than she ever thinks she can be. Even her wardrobe in the film suggests she is nothing more than a simple mother moving through life, with its mostly neutral tones like gray and navy.
In contrast, Emily Nelson represents everything that Smothers is not. She is fiery, aggressive, anxious, and confident. As a public relations executive, she connives and cons her way through the various issues she encounters in her day-to-day. Unfortunately for her husband Sean, played by Henry Golding, this sly nature seeps into her family life. She carries a particular disdain throughout the film for her husband’s failed writing career.
The intrigue of the film comes in the form of Emily Nelson’s disappearance. Nelson is a character who exudes confidence. She wears powerful, professional clothing in bright red to show that she is the boss of any room she walks into. When she disappears, it is not immediately clear why. The action of the film is driven by Stephanie’s investigation into her newfound friend.
The dark confessions traded between Stephanie and Emily come right out of thriller-mystery archetypes. Emily is the first to reveal her dark secrets. She divulges that she had a sexual encounter with both her husband and his teaching assistant at the university he lectures at, much to Stephanie’s surprise. The trope is also related to the standard powerful woman in films like this one. Other examples include Emily Blunt’s character in “The Girl on the Train” and Rosamund Pike’s character in “Gone Girl,” where a marriage is examined through the lens of an overbearing wife and an abusive husband.
The film gives a new element to the gone-girl genre by the addition of Kendrick’s character. Most films of this variety function entirely as commentary on married life, but with Stephanie Smothers included in the intrigue the audience has a vicarious, on-screen detective to help them work through the mystery of the film. Smothers changes from the innocent girl to someone her past self probably wouldn’t recognize. She represents the ability to reinvent oneself and still retain the positive qualities through trauma.
Ultimately, “A Simple Favor” is a film that has a significant feminist flare but that shouldn’t deter anyone. It portrays strong, powerful women on both sides of morality. The film receives an 82 percent rating.