The campy women's thriller genre receives an update in A Simple Favour, jostled by audiences' continued disregard for overt artifice, and the inevitable impact of Gone Girl and its recent wave of imitators. This is a curious little mystery that's actually more of a comedy - director Paul Feig is well-versed in comedic direction, and often finds himself at a loss in handling material of a different timbre. This all reads like a quirky but piquant mix of elements; its effect is sporadically successful, the gelling of the variety of components never entirely complete, and the end result much less satisfactory than you may initially hope.
In plain terms, this is a wobbly mystery plot to start with, never mind whether or not Feig botches it (he almost does). It mistakes random revelations for twists, emphasizing the potential for mystery both early and often, thus rendering the impact of some surprising developments largely moot. Through these awkward set-ups, one relishes the details that work - Jessica Sharzer's screenplay is deliciously caustic, Blake Lively's performance is vivid and reactive, and there's a cool, slick vibe running through the film that makes for a diverting watch. It's perhaps a bit too cool, as the sense that we're merely skirting the surface of what's really going on doesn't really lead to much of consequence. If you leave A Simple Favour somewhat frustrated that it's wrapped everything up a bit too neatly, you're not wrong - plot is deployed here more as a procession of obstacles for the central characters, rather than an explicable manifestation of their internal drives and external actions. By the end, Martians could descend from the skies and it'd be as relevant as almost any other occurrence of the past 45 minutes.
It's easy to disparage this film for its failings; equally easy in hindsight, though, to recall fondly those things it got so right. Even the limpest mystery will hook me in for some period of time, and this one kept me caring until very near the end. And as a campy women's thriller, it's certainly passable - at one point, Blake Lively struts through a graveyeard in a pinstripe suit with her boobs out, and no film that delivers on this front could ever be branded a total failure. But it's as a comedy that A Simple Favour perhaps predicably performs best, and probably as such that Feig and Sharzer could have leant in more, likely excusing some of the plot's less plausible incidents.
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