Written by Wayne Townsend
The best parts of the black comedy A Simple Favor are the banter between its stars, Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively. The worst part of the film is the banter between Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively. Maybe I’m old fashioned; I love the early days of cinema (circa 1930’s) when writers had to get around the “code” (moral standards imposed on the movie industry before the rating system: G, PG, R, etc.) with creative dialogue. It those days, the need to create a visual image of a character coupled with innuendo-laced conversation fashioned memorable portrayals. Think Joan Blondell, Mae West, Barbra Stanwyck. As the code relaxed, we got Faye Dunaway, Linda Florentino, (The Last Seduction, rent it TONIGHT) Kathleen Turner. This is the image Lively’s character, Emily Nelson is supposed to foster. Since today’s movies don’t require censorship, Lively let the F-bombs drop. It was unfortunate. Although Lively gives a capable performance, she has the looks but lacks the acting prowess to be credible as the femme fatale without the help of the complexities of a stronger script. Lively has the ‘it’ factor but hasn’t been able to find her niche, yet. She hits her marks but isn’t given enough material to work with. Yeah, she’s drop-dead gorgeous, so much so, any man would do whatever, (fill in the blanks) but you see her from a mile away. There’s no way she doesn’t have an ulterior motive for speaking to you. The thing the actresses as mentioned earlier had in common were, although you know you’re way out of their league, they were able to project a vulnerability to any respective suiter, so maybe, just maybe the guy convinces himself (think black widow spider) he has a shot. Lively couldn’t pull it off.
Then there’s Kendrick. As the main protagonist, she plays a single mom vlogger, the aptly named Stephanie Smothers, with an overactive need to help and an innate ability for problem-solving. She volunteers for every school project, leaving the other parents believing she a robot, alien, or witch. As she tries to solve the disappearance of Emily, she is drawn into an intricate web of mystery. As she uncovers clues, the more complicated the story becomes. Her OCD-esque need to never let anything go unfinished leads her down a dangerous path she navigates with a Forrest Gump like luck, avoiding any pratfalls us mere mortals would have surely fallen through. Kendrick has made a career of playing the perky, plucky, emotionally stable, moral compass of any film she’s in. She is in danger of being type-cast if she isn’t already. Her character Stephanie admits to doing something morally repugnant, but it’s Anna Kendrick, so all is forgiven. Yeah, too late. Kendrick is this generation Doris Day. Who? Look her up, thanks. In A Simple Favor, the black comedy isn’t black enough, Kendrick isn’t over the top enough to break the type-cast mold, and Lively is too beautiful to pay attention to anything she does. So, on second thought, maybe Lively did pull it off. See it for yourself, at matinee prices, 2 ½ out 5.