“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 Age of Adaline

Age of AdalineA new ‘timeless’ classic! The Age of Adaline, from Lions Gate, is a beautiful modern-day fairy tale that will prick your curiosity and capture your imagination. Blake Lively shines as Adaline, an ageless woman in an ever-changing world. Borrowing elements from the popular children’s novel Tuck Everlasting and the Academy Award winning film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, this movie takes what the preceding stories did and develop a new movie around the concept of a character with prolonged life. Fortunately, director Lee Toland Krieger sets his movie apart from others, in a similar sub-genre, so the audience can enjoy a fresh take on a plot that is reminiscent a Twilight Zone episode. I won’t go as far as to say this was a completely original concept; but, it is clear that this movie throws what’s been done into a blender, added some additional ingredients, to produce a story that combines the best of a fairytale with a romantic drama. From ‘time to time,’ there are movies that show love as something that can be beautiful and painful, and this is definitely one for your movie library.

The Age of Adaline is about Adaline Bowman (Lively) who lead a very nondescript life in the early 20th century until one day, following a tragic car accident, she is blessed and, at the same time, cursed with eternal youth. Realizing that she will never age past 29, Adaline must keep running and changing her identity every decade so as no one discovers her secret. Although it means leaving the daughter she loves so dearly and never allowing herself to experience true love, Adaline is unable to let anyone into her life for fear of becoming a specimen in a science experiment. Depressing as it is, everything is going to plan until one day, Adaline has a chance meeting with a charismatic philanthropist named Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman). As hard as Adaline plays hard-to-get, she is ensnared by his generosity and persistence. After reluctantly agreeing to travel with him to his parents’ place for their 40th anniversary, Adaline comes face-to-face with her past when she meets Ellis’ dad William (Harrison Ford). Follow Adaline through the 20th and 21st centuries as she attempts to maintain a relationship with her daughter, hides from love, and then falls in love, all while coping with her seemingly immortal youth.

At the center of the movie is 29 year-old Adaline. Blake Lively was an outstanding casting choice to play the century-old protagonist. Lively’s passion for design and style is clearly visible through her character. This is impart thanks to the costuming and makeup departments on the film. Bringing the costuming and hair/makeup to life for the screen, Lively embodies the idea of a sense class that transcends the decades. Despite how easy it would have been for the character of Adaline to be one-dimensional and mostly stagnate, Lively plays the role in such a way that she adds depth and shows development through the story. In indirect and subtle ways, Lively displays the pain and loneliness Adaline must live with everyday. As her counterpart, Michiel Huisman plays the gentleman who captures what’s left of her heart. Even though we don’t get a lot of backstory or exposition regarding the character of Ellis, it is apparent that he has been longing to find someone to love for most, if not all, of his adult life. Not nearly as well-developed as Adaline, Huisman takes the role of Ellis, who  essentially represents the opposition to Adeline’s goal of no one discovering her secret for fear of what may happen, and portrays a character that the audience can fall in love with and feel his pain of not having his emotions reciprocated by Adaline.

One of inescapable elements of the movie, the audience first enounters, is the omniscient narrator. This sets the mood for and indirectly explains to the audience that this is a fairy tale. Unlike many fairy tales, this is one that is grounded in a pseudo-science, so it helps to bolster the believability of the plot, within the confines of the narrative that is. Although having the narrator helps to create the atmosphere of a modern-day fairy tale, there are definitely times in which the exposition was a little too much. After all, the very foundation of a movie is anchored in the concept of showing and not telling. It isn’t that a movie cannot include voiceover, but it needs to be kept from explaining elements that could be shown visually instead. When a narrator is describing something with words at the same time it’s being shown on screen, the exposition becomes a trifle redundant. However, there is plenty that is shown, and quite well, in the movie. Speaking of ‘shown,’ another technical element of the film that is sure not to go un-noticed is the gorgeous cinematography (by David Lanzenberg) and production design. Not that it is flashy or profoundly groundbreaking, but that it displays a sense of timeless class that supports the narrative and moves it along instead of becoming the spectacle in and of themselves.

Regarding any areas of improvement, the aspect of the plot I found lacking was the under-developed external goal; we deal mostly with internal opposition and growth. A well-written story needs a protagonist with a well-developed external goal and well-defined opposition to that goal. The closest we get to an antagonist and opposition is through the characters of Ellis and William (Ford). More like anti-heroes than true opposition, they pose a threat to the life Adaline has lived for over 80 years. A plot element that often, when used, gets abused and written haphazardly is the flashback. Writers must be very careful when integrating the concept of storytelling with the tool of the flashback because sometimes the audience is left to wonder whether the main story is the present one or the one being told through flashbacks. Fortunately, writers J. Mills Goodloe & Salvador Paskowitz, handle this fragile plot tool carefully and keep the focus on the present story while using the flashbacks as support.

Taking place around New Years Eve, this movie may have been better-received by many critics had it been released during the Holidays. Never-the-less, I feel strongly that is is a beautiful movie that is definitely worth a watch this weekend. It may not be the next Academy Award winning love story, but it is still an all-around well-produced and directed film that most anyone will enjoy alone or with their significant other. It’s also refreshing to see another romantic movie released by the studio best-known for their horror films.

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