“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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“Tully” film review

A no holds barred, unapologetic story of the realities of motherhood. Focus Features’ Tully starring Charlize Theron is a brilliant film that shies not away from what being a mom is truly about during postpartum depression, a subject seldom touched on in film or TV. Directed and written by Juno’s Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody respectively, this film represents the best work of Reitman and Cody since the groundbreaking Juno which was followed up by the outstanding Young Adult, and showcases just how incredibly diverse an actor Theron is. See her in a role unlike her typical roles as she so incredibly authentically brings to life a middle-class working mother who is faced with many obstacles as she rears her three kids, one of which is a newborn. As a male, I cannot begin to fathom just how difficult it is to be a mother (or by extension, a single father); but after watching this film, I have a whole new respect for the many hats that a mom has to wear in order to manage a household. Some might even say that this film is so incredibly effective at laying out the hardships of being a mom, that it may work better than more conventional birth control. However, the film is not only about the trials of motherhood, but it also spends time on the joys. Tully is what I characterize as a dark comedy that has some truly terrifying moments.

Already the working mother of two kids, one of which displays signs of a developmental disorder, Marlo (Charlize Theron) is not pregnant with baby number three, in what her brother identifies as an “unplanned pregnancy.” Marlo’s wealthy brother desires to help his sister by gifting her a night nanny in order to help Marlo through the rough transition of a newborn in an already chaotic house. Marlo’s husband is hardworking, makes lunches, and assists his oldest daughter with her homework, but fails to understand that Marlo needs to be taken care of as well. In order to not go completely insane during postpartum depression, Marlo reluctantly decides that she could use the night nanny that her brother offered to pay for. Hesitant to the extravagance of having a nanny at first, Marlo forms an unexpected bond with the unconventional, challenging hipster Mary Poppins named Tully.

No pretense about this story of motherhood. Cody’s brilliant penchant for self-deprecation, dry humor, and stark naked emotion is witnessed once again in Tully. I cannot think of a present screenwriter that could have created such a compelling story. Unlike her timeless modern classic Juno, Cody shies away from the comedy you may be accustomed to seeing from her, and focus on the darker side of being a mother. And it works superbly. I laughed, cringed, and cheered during the film, and so did many of the others in the audience. There is an authenticity in this story that is seldom seen in other melodramas. Possessing a raw, gritty narrative, Tully will have you empathizing quickly with the struggles Marlo continues to face throughout the film. There is so much that is praiseworthy in this story; but unfortunately the sharp, precision that supports the first two acts becomes a little dull during the realization (or resolution) on the third act–the same chutzpah that was in the DNA of the majority of the movie is not as apparent at the end. What Tully lacks is a well-defined external goal. The weak end game is uncharacteristic of Cody, as both Juno and Young Adult had solid realizations. As I tell my screenwriting students, dealing with life is not a goal (it’s incidental). Still, everything else about this film is effectively compelling.

Theron displays a genuine, uncompromising commitment to character in this motion picture. Aside from the fact she literally put on 50lbs for the role (that’s right, no fat suit), she provides audiences with a fearless portrayal that is both vulnerable and fiery. Coupled with waves of mania, anger, and complete exhaustion, Theron delivers a razor-sharp performance that will leave you breathless and bleeding from the unbridled intensity and emotional rawness. In this slice of life story, there was certainly the room to demonize Marlo’s husband, the sister-in-law, the former roommate, and school principal, but Cody includes these individuals that many moms actually have in their lives but chooses to focus on the physiological and emotional struggle of Marlo as she recovers from her unplanned pregnancy. Of course, there is a brilliantly funny scene of Marlo confronting the pretentious private school principal. It’s the kind of encounter that many of us want to have with those who refuse to shoot straight and annoyingly avoid confrontation because they are so afraid to be candid, and it just comes off as a facade. Theron’s ability to completely sell a mother on the verge of a breakdown who’s constantly facing situations in which she asks herself how-the-hell-am-I-going-to-get-through-this is unparalleled. I cannot think of another movie that has a character quite like Marlo in Tully.

The film’s title character is a Mary Poppins of sorts that comes to the aid of Marlo when she is at her wits’ end. You may be wondering why the film is named after the night nanny instead of Marlo. For the same reason Mary Poppins is the name of the story that is really about Mr. Banks. Marlo may be the central character, but Tully (Mackenzie Davis) is so incredibly instrumental in supporting Marlo through this time. Furthermore, she opens her mind to new possibilities and the joys of being a mom, even when Marlo isn’t feeling it. Tully embodies that free spirit that many of us have or had in our 20s that somehow gets lost as we get older. Tully enables Marlo to channel her younger self in an effort to be emotionally healthier for her kids. Taking care of yourself first so you can be there for your kids, is one of Tully’s many messages to Marlo. There is a whimsy about Tully that is contagious, and will put smiles on the audience’s faces amidst the majority of the film’s darker moments.

You’ll encounter all the different kinds of people that an emotionally struggling mom has to deal with on a regular basis. From an out-of-touch snobby sister-in-law to a husband who just doesn’t get you, from a pretentious and absurdly conflict aversive school principal to a former roommate, the film provides commentary on how each of these kinds of relationships affect a mom who’s trying her best to keep sane and not murder everyone. The film even touches on how having a kid with a developmental disability is physiologically and psychologically draining, even though you love your kid unconditionally. It’s important to note that Marlo’s husband is shown to be an active participant in his family by way of, not only his financial support, but being there for his kids in the evening and helping to make lunches. However, he does withdraw to playing video games after the kids have gone to bed; but that’s because he is like many fathers that are unaware that their spouses need to be comforted, cared for, and shown appreciation during this rough transitional time. Hopefully, after watching this movie, fathers will have a better idea of what their spouse may be going through. One of the strongest themes one can write into a film is a commentary on what it means to be human–the human condition–but seldom has a film been so specific to comment on what it means to be a mother. In this respect, Tully is provocatively groundbreaking.

Such a perfect film for the upcoming Mothers Day weekend. Even if you are not a mom or (let’s not forget) single father, there is something to learn from this film because you may have a mom or single father in your circle of friends or family. Never before has a film stripped away all the magic of motherhood at the time when your kids are little. No frivolous, ostentatious gender reveal parties, gym moms-to-be, or ridiculously lavish baby showers for this mom. Why? Because those are events and experiences typically found on Pinterest, in the movies, or reserved for upperclass society that is hasn’t a clue what it’s like to be a struggling mother balancing her full-time career and being a full-time mom. Tully tells it like it is for so many, and why it is such an outstanding motion picture.

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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Twitter: RLTerry1

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