Mixing genres in movies can be a tricky proposition. Certain combos like drama and comedy or horror and comedy tend to work well as the humor gives the audience some relief from the more serious elements of the film. But if filmmakers don’t get the proportions just right, they run the risk of alienating moviegoers.
That’s what happens in A Simple Favor, a film that squanders most of its considerable assets. Anna Kendrick plays Stephanie Smothers, a mild if tightly-wound mom who starts hanging out with Emily Nelson (Blake Lively) when their sons become friends at school. Emily is Stephanie’s polar opposite – glamorous, career-driven, and inattentive-at-best as a mom.
Still, the two start to get on famously over copious martinis during play dates. When Emily goes missing one day after asking Stephanie to pick up her son from school, Stephanie’s helper instincts kick into overdrive. In addition to trying to find out what happened to Emily, she starts spending almost her entire time with Emily’s husband, Sean (Henry Golding).
Directed by Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, the new Ghostbusters) and written by Jessica Sharzer, the movie never seems to find its comfort zone. The story seems to want to go to some very dark places, but whenever it gets too dark, the filmmakers buoy it up with some jokes. It’s a jarring effect that doesn’t let the mystery of the film take full hold.
Consequently, what actually happened to Emily never seems all that important. Matters aren’t helped by a rushed storyline that tries to push certain twists too quickly or doesn’t adequately explain other elements. By the time the third act rolls around, things have gotten so convoluted that it’s nearly impossible to tell who’s supposed to be good and who’s supposed to be bad.
Still, the magnetic personalities of Kendrick and Lively keep the movie watchable, as the interplay between the two of them are the best parts of the film. The same can’t be said for Golding, who follows up his landmark role in Crazy Rich Asians with a generic part that does nothing to showcase his skills. Other well-known actors like Linda Cardellini, Jean Smart, and Andrew Rannells are all but wasted in their minor roles.
Just like oil and water, mixing together a mystery thriller and comedy just doesn’t work, at least in this case. A Simple Favor had everything it needed to succeed, but winds up in the failure pile due to a lack of storytelling awareness.