A Simple Favour is an undefinable, genre-bending pleasure featuring a beguiling Blake Lively

You think you know someone, and then they do something that
makes you re-evaluate everything you thought was true.

Take Paul Feig. For years now I’ve known him as the dapper
director of ribald, rewatchable comedies that feature Melissa
McCarthy – Bridesmaids, The Heat, Spy, Ghostbusters.
And then he comes out with A Simple Favour, which is
funny in a North by Northwest kind of way – only
occasionally, and always darkly.

It stars Anna Kendrick, who always seemed like your sister’s
flighty best friend, forever late for a plane or singing along
to some cheesy pop hit – yet here she is doing everything short
of donning a deerstalker to solve an elusive mystery.

and Lively.
Peter Iovino/eOne

It also stars Blake Lively, who hails from Los Angeles but
looks like she might have been manufactured there, with her
coltish figure and poreless skin. But it turns out she has
hidden dramatic reserves as well.

And there’s Henry Golding, whom you either know from Crazy
Rich Asians
or not at all, so new to the North American
scene is he. I haven’t had time to develop an opinion, beyond
making sure he wasn’t some computer-generated algorithm of
handsomeness. But from his role here it’s clear that even if
he’s artificial, his intelligence isn’t.

Those are the main pieces of the puzzle. The great thing about
A Simple Favour is that it never feels like you’re in
possession of every piece; more than halfway through its
two-hour run it’s still doling out information, and toying with
what you think you already know.

The story, which drags the audience in sideways, like a drunk
telling a half-forgotten joke, features Kendrick as Stephanie,
a single mom who functions as an efficient, one-woman PTA, and
runs a YouTube channel on which she makes healthy snacks and
adorable crafts.

Lively, Golding.
Peter Iovino/eOne

She meets bad-mom Emily (Lively), who drinks and swears and
seems to walk around backed by French pop songs from the ’50s.
Emily treats her as though she’s an adorable dog who’s followed
her home, and Stephanie is content to play the role.

But when Emily suddenly vanishes after asking the “simple
favour” of looking after her child for a few hours, Stephanie
keeps up the good-dog routine, following Emily’s scent – which
inevitably brings her into close contact with the woman’s
husband, a one-hit novelist who is either a bookstore cardboard
cutout of himself, or is also hiding his own dark secrets.

A Simple Favour was written by Jessica Sharzer – her
credits include eight episodes of the TV anthology series
American Horror Story – and adapted from a first novel
by Darcey Bell that looks to be Gone Girl meets
The Girl on The Train. So we have a mystery/thriller
book, adapted by a horror writer and then turned over to an
eccentric comedy director.

No wonder it feels like a supernatural ghost story one minute,
a detective noir the next, and unexpectedly a comedy, as when
Stephanie suddenly goes off on a snooty designer (Rupert
Friend) for whom Emily worked – works? There’s a great portion
of the film where we’re not sure if she’s alive or dead or
perhaps undead.

But even while the characters are flailing, the filmmaker
remains very much in control, tweaking the comedic and dramatic
timing just so. There’s some excellent use of dialogue over
flashbacks, indicating that Stephanie may not be the most
reliable narrator, but allowing us two choices as to which part
of her story to believe.

Feig has never made a sequel – The Heat 2 has been
announced, but will apparently be more of a spinoff, since star
Sandra Bullock has said she won’t come back for it. And with
A Simple Favour he delivers quality entertainment,
frothy and fun and a little naughty – and sequel-proof. Nice to
know there are some things about him we can rely on.

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