“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 Girl on the Train” movie review

girlonthetrainA tastes great, less filling, David Fincher-esque flick. DreamWorks Pictures and Reliance Entertainment’s The Girl on the Train directed by Tate Taylor and starring Emily Blunt is the much anticipated film adaptation of the best-selling novel of the same name written by Paula Hawkins. With a slow windup and quick delivery, the suspense thriller plays off as a knockoff combination of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, Fincher’s Gone Girl, and George Cukor’s Gaslight. Despite the wild success of the novel, this film adaptation appears to have jumped the tracks. In fact, fans of the novel may find that this translation from page to screen is a bumpy ride. The film is not without its high points; the plot is certainly intriguing and Blunt’s portrayal of the protagonist is excellent; however, her outstanding performance is simply not enough to carry the weight of an otherwise flawed film. The film fails to truly create that sense of dread and heighten the anxiety levels of the audience. There were many missed opportunities to tighten up the writing during the windup and spend more time on a successful nail-biting punch during the third act. It’s one of those films that feels like Act I is 2/3 of the movie with Acts II/III being 1/6 each. Lots of verbal exposition when exposition through showing would have been more effective. Don’t get me wrong; it was a fun suspense thriller and the plot twist and turning point from Act II to III was quite the shocker; but, the film just never seemed to move beyond the surface level.

Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt) is not adapting to life as a divorcee very well. She has a pronounced drinking problem and cannot seem to hold a job. Rides the train into New York City from the countryside everyday, passing her old neighborhood. Starring into not only her old house but the house of a couple she feels are the embodiment of love, Rachel develops an unhealthy obsession with the characters that appear outside of the window as sh narrates their lives. When she learns that the young woman who lives in the house two doors up from where she used to live, has gone missing, she place herself in the midst of the investigation. Not having dealt with her own sordid past, Rachel begins to obsess over the mystery because of the empathy she feels for the missing girl. Once the authorities feel that Rachel has crossed the line too many times, they begin to look her direction. Determined to solve the case of the missing girl, Rachel must put together puzzle pieces that she never thought she would have to face again.

If I had to sum up the film adaption of The Girl on the Train, I would concisely put it this way: under-developed. From the locations themselves to the writing (screenplay) to the plot and characters, this mystery-thriller-suspense movie fails to impact the audience and truly elicit a strong emotional response. Tapping into emotions and affecting anxiety levels is paramount for suspense-thrillers. After such a long, drawn-out wind up and the rushed showdown, this film does not live up to the hype that the novel generated. Having not read the novel, I cannot comment on differences or even how the movie could have been done better; but screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson could have done a better of job of creative a cinematic story fit for the silver screen. The flaws of the film so not stop with the writing, but director Tate Taylor’s vision, for the best-seller, should be checked because it appears as though he may need glasses. If it was not for Blunt’s commitment to the character of Rachel, the film would have had very little entertainment value. This is one of those films that was saved by attaching excellent talent.

This film falls into the same sub-genre as Gone Girl. But, what made Gone Girl so successful was the exceptional direction from David Fincher and simply the fact that author Gillian Flynn also wrote the screenplay. If an author can be trained to write the screenplay of the film adaption of their literary work, then that is always the best approach because they know the characters and plot better than anyone. Fincher also includes many WTF moments and treats the camera more than lens through which to witness a visual story but creates magic that takes the audience out of the threats and transports them into the movie. The Girl on the Train has a great premise and intriguing plot. The foundation IS there for a great movie adaptation. The writing not only doesn’t do the book justice, from what I have read, but fails to create a cinematic experience as well.

Other than Rachel, the rest of the cheaters are two-dimensional. We are given just enough information to make them mildly interesting, but the character development just isn’t there. Much like the detective in Gone Girl was as interesting to follow as the main cast, Detective Riley should have been just as well developed for this film. Rachel’s ex-husband, his wife, their nanny, and the nanny’s husband have the makings of a cast of characters filled with lies, deceit, betrayal, dark secrets, and intrigue (and to some extent, that comes across in the movie); however, all those elements are touched on but never truly fleshed out. Do those elements have a place in the plot of the film? Yes. But, do they play a dynamic a role as they could have? Not particularly. Most everything in the film is very surface level. All the makings are there for a film that could be nearly as thrilling as Gone Girl, but it’s all superficial. When location scouting for a film that relies upon houses, transportation, and proximity that are intricate to the plot, it is important to treat them AS cast. The two main houses and the train in this movie almost feel like they were selected out of convenience. Nothing about the locations or train grabbed me or generated a significant emotional response. However, I liked the proximity of the train to the houses and how the lake is on one side and the neighborhood on the other.

If you’re looking for a fun suspense-thriller to watch this weekend, then this one may fit the bill. But, you won’t get nearly the ‘train’ ride that you experienced in Gone Girl. Emily Bunt demonstrates a dynamic acting prowess compared to other characters that she has brought to life. Whether you choose to watch this film in a local cinema near you or wait for it to be on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Prime, or HBO, the experience will be the same. At the end of the day, it’s a good movie but a poor film.