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Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018 12:04 am

Favor a mixed bag of good intentions

I’m a fan of film noir and I’m not averse to a nice dark comedy. So Paul Feig’s A Simple Favor would seemingly be right up my alley, and, for the most part, it works. Simultaneously a parody of the genre as well as a fair-to-middlin’ example of it, the script written by Jessica Sharzer and based on the novel by Darcey Bell is a pastiche of post-modern moments punctuated by Feig’s brand of laser-sharp humor. This might seem an odd fit for the maker of such broad comedic hits like Bridesmaids and Spy, but the director’s instincts are right and he succeeds most of the time in effectively delivering the funny and mysterious.

Widow Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick) is a woman who’s drowning, though you wouldn’t know it from outward appearances. As a video blogger, she has a streaming program that gives advice to hardworking mothers in the form of things to do with the kids, quick recipes to make for the family, and other activities for overachievers that will likely make the common mom hate your guts.

Emily Nelson (Blake Lively) is her polar opposite, a well-put together businesswoman who cuts a rakish figure whether at work or picking up her son from school. She can’t really be bothered with school activities or helping out other moms – she’s all about herself. Yet she’s like a tractor beam, and before Stephanie realizes it she’s been sucked into her orbit, ingratiating herself to this black widow, revealing secrets she shouldn’t, and suddenly finding herself as a surrogate mother to Emily’s son.

When Emily disappears the film kicks into overdrive with its headlong plunge into the mystery that was her life, with Stephanie doing her best Nancy Drew to track down her friend. Initially, this happens very quickly and Kendrick’s perkiness holds her in good stead. It’s all very intriguing, but somewhere about the 75-minute mark the movie hits a wall, as if all of the balls the screenplay is juggling become too much and Feig has to hit the breaks so that he and his cast, as well as the audience, can catch their breath, gather their thoughts and move forward.

As entertaining as the film’s first hour is, it falters in its second as the narrative overload becomes its undoing. There’s one too many red herrings, two too many endings, and, as a result, the movie’s sharp edge is dulled by repetition and the performers trying a bit too hard to sell it all.

Kendrick and Lively prove an interesting combination, the yin and yang of motherhood and femininity, one nurturing, the other a classic femme fatale, and you can tell both actresses are having the time of their lives. The sense of fun they exhibit in tackling these roles proves infectious and the audience can’t help but laugh at Kendrick’s exaggerated expressions of shock or the devilish twinkle in Lively’s eyes as she pulls everyone’s strings. Their chemistry is natural, and should the pair star in another film together, I wouldn’t mind a bit.

In the end, Favor comes off as a gluttonous exercise, a project in which Feig’s reach exceeded his grasp. This isn’t a complaint that’s often levied at the product that comes out of Hollywood today, yet it’s nice to see someone thinking outside of the box, even if the result isn’t fully successful.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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