A Simple Favor review: Inc’est la vie

Premise

 

Ok, highkey this movie’s just a way dumber Gone Girl. But it’s so, so entertaining.

 

Plot (Spoilers. Like, a lot.)

 

Stephanie Smothers, a widowed single mother and vlogger, goes to her son’s school for an event. There, she meets Emily: a porsche driving, high fashion wearing, high-prestige job holding functional alcoholic. Emily invites her back to her house, where the two drink martinis and gossip. Emily’s husband comes home— HOLY SHIT IT’S THAT GUY FROM CRAZY RICH ASIANS. This guy. Wow. I’m just gonna call him Nick for the rest of the review. Anyway, Nick is an English professor and formerly best-selling author of some book. Nick and Emily insult each other while kissing in their kitchen. Stephanie, uncomfortable, watches from the sidelines.

 

Steph and Emily begin seeing each other more regularly. One day, they decide to share secrets with each other. Emily reveals that she and Nick had a threesome with his TA. Stephanie counters with the revelation that she had sex with her half-brother, and that her son is actually his, and also when her late husband found out, he crashed his car, killing both himself and her brother/lover. Just couldn’t resist one-upping her, could ya, Steph?

 

A few days later, Emily vanishes after asking Steph to pick up their sons from school. The police get involved, and Stephanie tries to support Nick, helping him around the house and taking care of his son (also named Nick, actually. Shit, that might get confusing. Oh well.).

 

Stephanie sneaks into Emily’s office, where she discovers a picture of someone who resembles her, but not as hot. Eventually, a report from one of Stephanie’s viewers (what would her fanbase be called? Smotherers?) leads the police to a lake in Michigan. They discover a rental car under water, along with a body that’s identified as Emily’s. Strangely, her autopsy report discovers a large amount of heroin in her system, which just goes to show that functional alcoholics can also be functioning opiate users. Wait maybe that’s not the mora-

 

Stephanie continues to aid Nick, inevitably leading to the two having sex (as movies have taught us, there’s no such thing as a platonic nanny). Nick asks her to move in with him, and she eventually relents. Around that time, weird shit starts happening. Nick and Stephanie’s sons report that they saw Emily at their school. Stephanie, after clearing out Emily’s old closet, returns home to find that everything has been put back. Stephanie receives a call from Emily, who vaguely threatens her. When Stephanie mentions this to Nick, he tells her that she’s just imagining things, and that she should pop a xan (foreshadowing the reveal that Nick is actually a SoundCloud rapper).

 

Stephanie decides to investigate. First, she drives to New York to find Diana, an artist that did a painting of Emily. Diana tells her that she knew Emily when she was in college, but by a different name. She remarks that Emily is bad news, and that she disappeared without a trace sometime back. Later, Steph journeys to a camp on the lake that Emily’s corpse was discovered in, where she asks to see old records. She finds a photo of two twins, Hope and Faith, that had attended the camp years before. She goes to the McLanden family home, where through a conversation with their mother, learns that one of the twins was troubled, and that both had fled the family home after their father died in a house fire.

 

Stephanie’s digging leads to a hold being put on Emily’s life insurance payments. She confronts Nick, who denies knowing anything about the situation and calls Emily a compulsive liar. In a restaurant, a disguised Emily meets Nick and threatens him with a gun. Later, in a graveyard, Emily and Stephanie meet. Flashback time!

 

Emily had indeed been Hope McLanden. After her sister convinced her to partake in the arson of their home, the two split up and fled. Emily became successful, while her sister did drugs and dropped out of school and stuff. The reason she had gone to Michigan in the first place was to meet up with her sister, who had threatened to go to the police with information about the arson unless she received money. Y’know, like extortion. Emily drowned her, faking her own death in order to receive a large life insurance settlement. In the present, Emily concocts a plan to frame Nick for her sister’s death, and asks Stephanie to assist her.

 

Emily goes to the police, telling them that Nick was abusive and that the entire plot had been his idea. Nick is arrested, and Stephanie plays along. One day, Nick, out on bail, comes home to a giddy Emily, who taunts him over his arrest. Stephanie comes in with a gun, threatening to kill everyone. Emily and Nick begin fighting, and Steph shoots him in the chest. Emily laughs at their attempt to elicit a confession, and reveals she knows that the situation is a set-up. She pulls out a real gun and shoots Nick in the shoulder, before threatening to kill Stephanie. Stephanie then reveals that it was a double-double cross, and that she had actually been streaming the whole thing (presumably on the Fortnite section, for more views).

 

Emily runs outside and gets hit by a car (literally Wish Upon), and then arrested. Post-text reveals that she went to prison, while Stephanie’s vlog channel had skyrocketed in popularity, and she also became a detective? Or something like that. The end.

 

Characters

 

Stephanie- At the beginning of the movie, I was a little annoyed at how perfect Anna Kendrick’s character was. (MORE LIKE PITCH PERFECT HAHA <– you, in the comments section). She was just super nice to everyone, good at a lot of stuff, and I figured it would get annoying fast. Thing is, it was pretty necessary to make her character that way given how toxic a lot of the other people in this movie are. Other than that, I actually really liked how she was written, and she does some really smart things throughout the film. I thought Kendrick did a really good job of playing the peppy, quirky character, although I guess at this point she’s so type cast that they added her as a data type in the C library. // I hate myself for writing that joke

 

Emily- She’s so unbelievably toxic from the outset that it’s kinda hard to take her seriously. Pretty much everything she says is either a passive-aggressive comment or a straight-up insult. If you removed her character from this movie and put her out into the real world, she’d be super unlikable. That said, when she becomes the villain of the story (instead of some random person that no one knows much about), a lot of her meanness becomes more fitting. Overall, it was just really enjoyable to watch her fuck with people.

 

Nick- I think Nick in this movie was basically supposed to be Ben Affleck’s character from Gone Girl (also named Nick, actually). He’s like this smooth, womanizing guy, who I think we’re supposed to dislike? Granted, he does sleep with his (ostensibly) deceased wife’s best friend a few month after she “died.” And there was like an 85% chance he was fucking his TA. Yikes. So when the point in the movie comes where Nick gets thrown under the bus, I guess it was intended like “yeah, fuck that guy!” Except, compared to his wife, he’s really not that bad. Not great or anything, but not sister murdering, closet-reassembling, psychopath. And I thought Henry did a pretty good job in this movie. Solid actor, that guy.

 

Not them: There aren’t really any important characters in this movie other than three I just talked about. I’m mainly just gonna use this section to take more shots at those “school parents” side characters. I just hated them so much. They’re really annoying, and they weren’t funny. They kind of get reincorporated at the end, but I felt like that was a pretty lazy way of getting a payoff. I think if they were taken out of the movie, it would’ve been better.

 

Dialogue

 

This movie had a surprisingly tight script. There were a lot of callbacks and references to jokes and scenes that happened early on. Granted, not all of the jokes were great, but I think they got a decent amount of mileage from them. There were definitely parts where the dialogue itself was a bit weak, but the timing/delivery made it work.

 

The most frustrating thing about this movie’s script was probably the inability of characters to have resolved communication. For example, there’s one part in the movie where Stephanie finds out that Nick took out a life insurance policy on Emily, which makes her really suspicious. She confronts him, and he gives her this half-assed explanation of “oh she asked me to do it.” It’s pretty clear that Stephanie still isn’t satisfied with his explanation, but she just drops the issue and continues living in his house. I feel like characters could’ve been much more clear with just telling each other what they were thinking, and working out their differences that way. Then again, I’m probably not qualified to comment on human interaction :’(.  

 

Visuals

 

Stephanie’s blog is used as a literal framing device.

 

Emily’s house is absolutely gorgeous, but I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve seen the same exact set used in other movies.

 

This movie is edited really well. There are a few scenes with flashbacks spliced into the dialogue, and the way certain things are shown both in response to and supporting whatever’s happening in the main sequence is clever. Granted, some of the content of said flashbacks is kinda stupid, but the presentation is on point.

 

Analysis?

 

When the movie started, I was almost certain there was gonna be a big emphasis on gender role things. And I mean, if you wanted to examine it through that lens (feminism, I guess?), you probably could. I don’t know if it really makes all that much of a statement on anything, but I guess it’s worth considering. Off the bat, our introduction to Stephanie presents her as probably the most stereotypically feminine character that could be constructed for [current year]. She takes on the nurturing role in pretty much every aspect of her life, from personal (single, very caring mother of a young child), to social (volunteering for every community event she can get her hands on), to professional (lifestyle vlogger). Emily, on the other hand, is basically the opposite. She’s generally uncaring, lacks manners and social etiquette, speaks with extremely strong language, and in her interactions with her son, seems totally unwilling to take on the aforementioned nurturing role, oftentimes rejecting it.

 

So given all that, I thought this movie would be like a deconstruction of gender stereotypes. Maybe there’d be some conclusion where it turns out that being on either end of this feminine-masculine spectrum is bad. Or something. The actual movie, however, doesn’t delve all that deep into this dichotomy, other than using it for comedy; many scenes have this stark contrast between their two personalities, and that’s often used to set up some kind of joke. In the end, neither one really developed all that much; Stephanie became slightly more assertive, albeit within the confines of her previous occupation/position, and Emily ends up arguably more masculine(?) than before. There’s a scene where the two of them kiss, but it doesn’t really have anything to do with gender roles or sexuality; it’s really just there to demonstrate how “edgy” Emily is. She refuses to abide by anyone’s rule set, including her own orientation (take that, society). So I guess my point is, all this movie’s exploration of gender kinda leads nowhere? At least in my view.

 

Now, on the (semi-related) topic of female empowerment, this movie hits basically all the same notes as Gone Girl. There’s an incompetent husband, whose life is basically at the mercy of the women in it. He’s unfaithful, but doesn’t actually hold any power. All of his “traditionally male” attributes basically present as character flaws, to then be exploited by the people who want to fuck with him. Both movies sort of have the same problem in that the female characters with the most control aren’t at all likable. They’re villains, and their successful triumph over the “patriarchy” leads them to abuse whatever power they do attain. I’d say that this movie actually does handle that a bit better, as Stephanie’s character sort of exists to counterbalance Emily’s. Both women are smart, powerful, and resourceful, but one actually uses that to do “the right thing.” So at least audiences are (hopefully) gonna leave the theater with generally more positive/unaffected attitudes toward women. Not that they wouldn’t have with Gone Girl but real talk, Rosamund Pike is fucking scary in that movie.

 

Conclusion

 

If you’re looking for a smart, suspenseful, relationship-focused thriller, honestly just watch Gone Girl (this is my sixth time mentioning Gone Girl in this review. Oh, that makes seven). BUT, it you’re looking for a funny, witty, date-night movie that won’t scar your SO forever, A Simple Favor is a great pick. It’s enjoyable, well-paced, and surprisingly not predictable. You win this round, Paul Feig.

 

Good for: Chill movie nights

 

Bad for: I guess if you really hate comedies and/or Anna Kendrick you won’t like this movie

 

Bod R8s: 6.3/8

 

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