“A Simple Favor” full movie review

Sleek, stylish, sexy! The best “lifetime movie” ever. Either the marketing of this film was the most misleading or the most brilliant! And yes, I truly believe that lifetime movie is a legit subgenre of suspense. Dark comedy meets neo-noir in this fantastic movie. It’s twisted and fun! Thrilling and comedic, Paul Feig’s film engages in a delicate balancing act that required extreme precision to ensure that the film not make any movement, miss a beat, or gloss over a turning point that could have would up disastrous. Much in the same way Feig’s Spy struck brilliant balance between comedy and serious spy movie, he proves that he has the ability to replicate the approach. Gives me hope for the highly anticipated Spy sequel that rumor has is happening. But we will have to wait and see if that rumor comes to fruition. Containing solid performances from Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick, the film also comments on the mind games woman and mothers play with one another. In fact, A Simple Favor delivers some unconventional yet thought-provoking commentary on motherhood and parenting. For all the commentary in the film, it never tries to be preachy or dogmatic about how women and mothers should behave or treat one another. Various parenting styles are played around with in hilarious ways. While the plot may seem like a satire or parody of Gone Girl, there is enough that is different that is certainly feels like a unique movie. There is nothing accidental about how all the elements came together to give us a fantastic movie; everything is intentionally executed with extreme care in order to deliver a lifetime movie that is suspenseful and, at times, slapstick funny.

Be careful when you fulfill a simple favor from a friend. Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) is a simple mom who’s extremely active in his son’s school and runs a successful “mommy” vlog. Emily is the director of public relations for a major fashion brand and is never active in her son’s school. Through a series of unpredictable events, Stephanie and Emily become best friends, even though on the surface, they couldn’t be any different from one another. One day, Emily asks Stephanie for a “simple favor” to pick her son up from school because of a work emergency. It soon becomes clear that Emily is not coming home. And Emily then begins a investigation into the disappearance of her friend. After the cops get involved, the mystery takes a turn for the bizarre, and Emily must find out what happened to her friend and mother Emily.

Immediately, the opening stylistic credit sequence informs me that this is not going to be a typical murder-mystery movie. The title sequence reminds me of the same one Feig used for Spy. Amidst the angular single color designs are images of women’s fashion. One of the takeaways from the trailer was the amazing costume design and fashion in the film. Setting the tone for a sexy thriller is successfully accomplished in using this imagery. It’s a throwback to the style of the 1960s spy movies that featured women in killer attire that was absolutely perfect in every way. Much like in television, movies have largely moved away from artistic opening title sequences. What I love about a creative opening title sequence is that it can set the tone for the rest of the movie. Think of it as the cover art or preface of a book. Since this movie is based on a book, I like how the opening title sequence seems to be a manifestation of the cover or opening of the book. From the opening title sequence effectively communicating the tone of what we are about to watch, the opening scenes of the film inform us precisely who Stephanie and Emily are. Stephanie is almost a caricature of an enthusiastic crazed Martha Stewart mom juxtaposed against Emily’s high-fashioned, corporate power cynical mom who still loved her kid. Conflict should derive from character interactions even before the plot creates conflict, and this film gives us two characters that provide exceptional and comedic conflict right at the beginning. The characters draw you into the story. It is obvious that the characters were developed first.

Before we even talk about the commentary on motherhood, there is a lot to explore in the respective personalities of Emily and Stephanie. Each personality and worldview is incredibly unique. What isn’t unique between the leading ladies is the fact that they are both incredibly intense individuals. Stephanie pours her tenacity into her vlog and being a “perfect mom” whereas Emily pours her energy into her career and keeping everyone who wants to gets close to her at bay. While Stephanie is enamored with Emily, she misses some indicators that there is something not quite right with Emily. But because of her desire to be friends with Emily, Stephanie chooses to overlook Emily’s bizarre behavior. Behavior that would drive the rest of us away such as being taken advantaged of, belittling, patronizing, just to name a few. There is a scene in which Emily snaps at Stephanie for taking a candid picture with an attitude that could cut glass. There is something Emily admires about Stephanie too. Stephanie’s constant positivity and genuine authenticity. Qualities that Emily does not have. And Stephanie admires the hyper-sexualization of Emily. In many ways, what makes them different, actually complements one another. Yin and Yang.

Beyond the mystery of A Simple Favor, which I won’t explore because it would spoil the plot, there is a subtext of commentary on motherhood. Both are mothers, yet one of them is clearly the femme fatal. The film sets Emily up as the femme fatal from the moment she steps out of her Porsche in the killer suit and devilish stiletto heels, topped with a fedora directly out of a film noir. Stephanie is the poster-child overachieving mom with her volunteering, smart mom outfits, and baking. Each is essentially an extreme of their respective type of mom. The unconventional intimacy between Emily and Stephanie allows Feig to have the support for the dramatic shifts and turning points in the plot. Whether you may be a dedicated stay-at-home mom (which, can be a full-time job–let’s be honest) or a jet-setting corporate work-life balance mom, the pressures of motherhood (or more broadly parenting for all the fathers out there) can bring out the worst in someone. While day spas, laughter, makeovers, or a glass of wine on a balcony may be perfectly fine most of the time to provide relief from the stresses of parenthood, sometimes a mom (or dad) needs something a bit more engaging, tawdry, hair-let-down, steamy, and intriguing. Something that provides some much-needed disorder to keep things interesting. And that is precisely what happens in A Simple Favor. Instead of taking either extreme position from which to be a parent, perhaps the best answer lies somewhere in the middle. Don’t forget that even overachievers need to let their hair down.

If you enjoyed Gone Girl and Spy, then you will undoubtedly enjoy this brilliant thriller that is both suspenseful and funny. Paul Feig is proving that he can consistently walk that fine line between comedy and thriller or comedy and suspense in order to deliver films that take themselves seriously as both a comedy and a more serious work. Furthermore, Feig proves that he can provide an excellent platform for charismatic female actors to showcase the range of their talent. A Simple Favor delivers a plot that is simple yet contains many intricate pieces and surprise reveals. You will be completely engaged the whole time.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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“The Accountant” movie review

theaccountantA moderately good investment of your time. The Accountant is quite the interesting crime drama that shows that math can be exciting and lead to dangerous adventures. Directed by Gavin O’Connor and starring a phenomenal cast including Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, and John Lithgow, this film will keep your intrigue the entire runtime. What makes this film most interesting is the approach one might take when screening it. You can either approach it from a psychological/behavioral or a financial perspective. Although the plot is a little difficult to follow at times, the solid performances by the actors make the film one not to miss if you enjoy thrillers involving the government, covert ops, and savants. While some in the U.S. are shouting “make America great again,” Warner Bros. is shouting “make math sexy again.” From drop-dead shoot-out scenes to awkward comedic interactions, The Accountant will definitely have you thinking about it even after leaving the movie theatre. One the verge of being a non-linear film, the main plot does, at times, get lost in a few poorly integrated sub-plots. Definitely feels like one of those movies where important scenes that would have better supported or developed some of the sub-plots were left on the cutting room floor. The movie is not without its highlights. Affleck and Kendrick deliver outstanding performances that hold the film together. Whether it’s Affleck’s vacant expressions on his face or Kendrick’s WTF moments, the best part of the film is the talent on screen.

Talk about a double life. Accountant Christian Wolfe (Affleck) runs a small accounting agency in a nondescript strip plaza as a cover for his real work as an accountant and financial analyst for many organized crime groups. When the U.S. Treasury Dept begins to investigate him further, he takes on a seemingly normal client in an innovative robotics company. Forced to work with a beautiful and geeky in-house accountant (Kendrick), Wolfe is challenged with conducting a forensic analysis of the financial records in order to determine if there is embezzlement or money laundering occurring at the humanitarian robotics company. When he uncovers corruption, his life and the life of his counterpart is in jeopardy. Good thing Wolfe has an extensive background in martial arts and tactical armament.

Central to the plot of the film is the fact that our protagonist Christian Wolfe (Affleck) is on the autism spectrum. Although, he is on the high functioning end (often times diagnosed as Aspergers syndrome), Wolfe certainly displays classic signs of autism throughout the movie. More noticeable in his younger years, he still carries some of the psycho-social dysfunction into his adulthood. Wolfe’s father was a high-ranking official in the Army specializing in psychological warfare. He ran his home fairly, but with an iron fist. Both Wolfe and his brother were highly affected by the departure of their mother at Christmastime. The following years were hard on both of them. Coupled with–let’s be real here–daddy issues, Wolfe channels all his time and energy into military operations, martial arts, and psychological defenses. But, this intense training was forced on him by his father in order to combat the behavioral issues brought on by autism. After the death of his father, Wolfe decides to go from hero to anti-hero by making his living off organized crime but funneling his money into charitable causes. Although he may not have been racking up zeros in his bank account, he found other ways to be paid: valuable original artwork. The character of Christian Wolfe posts quite the dichotomy of attributes that create an interesting juxtaposition. One one hand, Wolfe is a ruthless criminal but not he other he is a humanitarian who appreciates fine art and loyalty.

There haven’t been many movies that fall into this sub-genre of drama. The Accountant is what you get when combining Batman with The Big Short. Because the film contains the classic elements and plot devices found in the aforementioned films, it has a little bit of an identity crisis. One of the flaws that besets this film is too much sub-plot. If the writer had spent more time developing the autism or concentrated on the daddy-issues sub-plot then perhaps the film would have flowed more smoothly. As it stands, the flashbacks introduce too much under-developed material into the high-concept plot. It’s almost as if the writer and director took a high-concept film and attempted to give it more emotional depth. The result is a fractured film that is interesting to watch and includes some dark comedy but suffers from coherent storytelling.

There aren’t too many choices at the cinema this weekend. If you are looking to laugh your ass off, then perhaps the Kevin Hart film will fit the bill; but if you are looking for an interesting film that highlights the potential and capabilities of those who are diagnosed as autistic and channel those abilities into a financial thriller, then The Accountant would be an excellent choice. Although there have been films featuring protagonists with physiological or psychological disabilities, this one is unique in that the main character harnesses the powers of the indirect affects of autism, and becomes an anti-hero who the audience roots for the whole time.