As Paul Feig’s (“Bridesmaids,” “Sisters”) first venture into the mystery or suspense genre, “A Simple Favor” is an aesthetically and comedically engaging version of a familiar plot—the disappearance of a wife. Anna Kendrick stars as Stephanie, a single mom with a parenting vlog who unexpectedly befriends Emily (Blake Lively), a glamorous PR executive whose son goes to school with Stephanie’s. Even more unexpectedly, after their friendship has grown, Emily asks Stephanie to pick her son up from school and never reappears. Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively turn in strong leading performances, with Lively showing a surprising comedic range. Both actresses make the relationship between the leads not only interesting, but emotionally compelling, filling in a piece of the mystery, since in worse version of this movie we would have been left wondering why these women are friends.
But from the beginning, the movie presents itself as a mystery wrapped up in a love story, with a soundtrack of ‘60s French pop and a wardrobe to match. Unlike many similar stories of disappearances and betrayal—some of which are directly referenced, like “Diabolique” (1955) or “Gone Girl”—the focus of this intrigue is not on the husband (Henry Golding), but on the female friendship. Personally, I wished this relationship had gone in a different direction, especially in the last act of the film, but this dissatisfaction I’m feeling might just be part of the movie’s thesis about manipulation, idolization, and wealth. I’m hoping this is the case, because otherwise the movie didn’t let these themes, which were brought up in subtle moments throughout the movie, really sit with the audience or play an important enough role in the plot.
I have no complaints about the jokes, which I found to be just funny enough to make you occasionally laugh out loud without ruining the suspense the movie tries to build. I did wonder about the use of several talented comedians, like Aparna Nancherla, Patti Harrison, and Sarah Baker, in roles that didn’t really let them be as ridiculous and funny as they could be. An exception to this would be Andrew Rannells in a non-musical role as a cynical fellow parent at the women’s elementary school; his one-liners are some of the more memorable, and one scene of his was one of the few that made me truly snort rather than blow air out of my nose.
Finally, the detective plot, if not the mystery itself, was one of the most satisfying parts of the movie, when after 30 minutes of building up the disappearance of Emily, we finally get to see Stephanie play private investigator. Some of the movie’s most compelling moments have to do with Stephanie getting to know Emily’s moral ambiguity just as we’re getting to know hers. I still wish this movie had been even more daring in its heroines’ characterization and relationship and in its already slightly campy plotline, but it’s still a thoroughly enjoyable mystery with a comedic edge to enjoy after break at Seelos.