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Mom Turns Sleuth: A Simple Favor

Updated on September 29, 2018


Stephanie Smothers strives to make her home - and everyone else's - as happy as can be in her series of homemaking vlogs. In addition to making her Connecticut home a welcoming one, she also gets involved in many activities at her son's school. In A Simple Favor, Emily Nelson (Blake Lively), the head of marketing for a fashion designer, asks that Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) look after her son because Emily expects to be working late. Stephanie, who knows their sons are friends, eagerly says yes. The favor turns out to be not so simple when Emily doesn't come for her son later. Stephanie reaches Emily's college professor husband, Sean Townsend (Henry Golding), and they report Emily's disappearance to the police. Before she went missing, police discover she rented a car. Stephanie starts to talk about Emily on the vlogs, which leads to a viewer reporting that she saw the car in Michigan.

Stephanie, however, wants more answers than the police can uncover. She goes to Emily's employer to investigate. That employer, Dennis Nylon (Rupert Friend), indicates he respected her privacy, and this wasn't the first time she'd gone away for days. shortly afterward, a body that Sean positively identifies as Emily is found in a lake by the rental car. After the funeral, Stephanie starts living with Sean. She then gets a message containing information that she'd shared with only Emily. Stephanie then asks about a portrait in Emily's old home with its artist, Diana Hyland (Linda Cardellini), who didn't know Emily as Emily. Diana gives Stephanie an old shirt Emily had left there with the name of a camp. She visits the camp and looks through old yearbooks and sees someone who looks a lot like her friend. She then uncovers a news account of a fire where someone simply disappeared. She, as a result, questions a life insurance policy worth $4 million to Sean, who counts on that cash because the couple had incurred heavy debts.


A Simple Favor, based on a novel by Darcey Bell, is a riveting comic mystery from director Paul Feig, who also produced the film. This picture shows a match of wits between its two main characters. As flighty as she may sometimes seem, Stephanie is a truly caring person and a quick learner. For example, Emily shows Stephanie how to make a perfect martini. The next time they have the same drink, Stephanie remembers all of the details. She still cares about her friend, even as she gets a clearer picture of her past. Emily has much to hide, and for good reasons. Emily likes to be in control, and finds a way to be on top of every situation. Sean may have found himself thrust into the middle of the movie's main situation, but he has things to hide, just like his wife. Jessica Sharzer, whose writing career has primarily included television and independent films, provides sharp dialog and an engaging mystery. Feig never lets this film drag as the main characters start to reveal that their friendship is more than a little problematic. The soundtrack, which includes a great deal of French music, gives the film both a pleasantness and sophistication that matches the personalities of its leads.

Both Kendrick and Lively display the best of their craft with their performances. Kendrick is perfectly in focus as the wide-eyed, resourceful, optimistic, generous to a fault Stephanie. The young widow has determined not to let her losses make her withdrawn. At her son's school, one teacher has to stop her from volunteering at more than one thing at one school-sponsored function, much to her disappointment. She has both a comic enthusiasm for the things she does and a deep sense of sadness when she finds the occasional roadblock into her queries about Emily. Lively, as Emily, is a puppet master and master manipulator as she tries to control every aspect of her lives and the lives of those around her. On top of the friendship her son has with Stephanie's son, Emily thinks that Stephanie is simple with the way she lives her life. Emily develops a grudging admiration for her friend, but never stops trying to get the upper hand on Stephanie. Golding burst onto the big screen in Crazy Rich Asians, and adds another nice performance as Sean, a husband who has found himself in over his head in more ways than one.


I'm sure a lot of people have been asked by a friend for a simple favor, but the favor turns out to be anything but simple. That situation reaches an extreme in A Simple Favor, where a request to babysit turns into a look into the life of the requester that she would rather not have anyone see. A smaller detail leads to even bigger details, and puts a young mother in places she'd rather not be. Stephanie Smothers, though, looks at predicaments as obstacles to be conquered. When she rises to the occasion in her quest to find her friend, someone wishes that she wouldn't. The movie manages to balance some dark spots with a spirit of resolve and an ample amount of laughter. When someone asks Stephanie to do a favor, she feels determined to carry out that favor to its conclusion, no matter how long that may take.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give A Simple Favor four stars. Mother knows best.

A Simple Favor trailer

© 2018 Pat Mills


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