Determined to be a movie star, Blake Lively has a starring role in a clever movie and she is perfect.
When Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) watches Emily (Blake Lively) exit a car to pick up her young son at his grade school, she is godsmacked. Emily has an audience of parents (Andrew Rannells and Aparna Nancherla) watching her with their mouths gaping open. She is wearing a modified Tuxedo and has two tons of thick blond hair. There is no one like her in Connecticut. Her son Nicky (Ian Ho) is as demanding as his mother and he has a potty-mouth – which is just fine with Emily.
Nicky wants a play date with Stephanie’s son Miles (Joshua Satine). Emily immediately shows Stephanie that she is going to deliver in spades on her bad-girl vibe. Saying what she wants and doing exactly what she wants is the way Emily rolls. She invites Stephanie and Miles to her house. Widowed Stephanie, getting by on her late husband’s insurance policy money, cannot believe Emily’s ultra-modern, glass encased house. Emily thinks it’s a “Bette Davis” dump.
Emily prepares drinks and tells Stephanie her husband Sean (Henry Golding) is a loser, they will lose the house, and they are broke. After revealing all this, she begins tempting Stephanie to reveal her uppermost secret.
Stephanie, all ticks and tight lips, spends her time vlogging to anonymous moms. She bakes cookies and does crafts. She also has told her “people” about her new, glamorous friend.
Emily’s life looks fantastic to Peter Pan collar wearing Stephanie. With her 1987 wardrobe, limp hair and makeup-free face, Stephanie looks at Emily as if a goddess has welcomed her into her home. Emily’s so perfect, she even has a big job with a high-strung designer (Rupert Friend).
Emily’s clothes by Costume Designer Renee Ehrlich Kalfus, requires a special mention.
They become fast friends with Stephanie, unknowingly, becoming Nicky’s daily after-school pick-up. Flattered that the cool girl in high school has noticed her, Stephanie willingly steps into Emily’s vortex.
Adapted by Jessica Sharzer from Darcey Bell’s 2017 novel, A Simple Favor, the dialogue is naughty and very hip. Every woman in the audience would want to hang out with Emily and rummage through her closet – eventually Stephanie does just that.
After agreeing to a simple favor from Emily, Stephanie picks up Nicky and takes him to her house. Emily never turns up to get him. After a few days, Stephanie starts investigating and worrying about what has happened to Emily.
Stephanie uses her vlog every day to update the search for Emily. Her numbers start to grow. It’s not only cookie recipes but theories about what happened to Emily. Sightings of Emily start coming in to Stephanie’s vlog.
The police are called in and following DATELINE’S proven formula, the husband is always the prime suspect. Meanwhile, Stephanie has been helping Sean with Nicky. She has finally found her milieu – she prepares elaborate dinners at the house and slips into bed with Sean.
Now she has the right to try on Emily’s gowns and move her stuff in. Only straight-talking Nicky is refusing to have Stephanie replace his mother. Because even after the funeral, he claims his mother is still alive.
So from the breezy interaction between Stephanie and Emily – with Emily slyly introducing girl-on-girl sex by kissing Stephanie – the scent of murder enters the plot.
We don’t want Emily to die, unless s we can see the gown she’s wearing in her coffin. Emily’s clothes are fantastic. She should have given Stephanie some tips immediately upon getting her to the house but as soon as Emily is no longer around, Stephanie starts to dress much better. And she doesn’t say “I’m sorry” or tighten up her lips anymore. She’s been liberated and slips right into Emily’s life and clothes but not her red-bottomed high heels.
What happened to Emily? Will Stephanie be able to one day fit into her shoes? Can she give Sean the domestication lacking in his life?
Blake Lively is sensational here. Her dialogue sounds genuine, as if she didn’t rehearse it in her trailer. In this role, Lively makes you like Emily. She’s not the least bit “haughty” or plays “privileged.” There is a ranking in Hollywood casting and Lively has now moved into a higher rank. Emma Stone, Amy Adams, Jessica S have situated themselves as actresses, whereas Jessica S. and Lively were lucky to be cast. Sheer determinism has given them longevity. Jessica took off her makeup and played a killer in THE SINNER. Her stock has rose. Lively now has entered the race for Adams’ parts.
Kendrick is mousey doubled. She genuinely looks at Emily with reverence. From my own experience with many Stephanies, she should have immediately asked Emily to re-do her. I call these women “my projects.” First thing I do is take them lingerie shopping. That puts them in the right frame of mind. Instead of asking them what kind of clothes they like, I re-shape them after throwing out everything in their closet. No more sneaker-wearing outfits. I give them a “presentation.” Imagine them in 17th century London at a ball and they were being presented to the Queen. How would they showcase themselves to make an impression?
Director Paul Feig can rightly say that he has given Likely a real acting career. A SIMPLE FAVOR is not a typical Feig film but he has a fine touch with this little temptation that turns into a clever thriller.
Victoria Alexander is a member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org/. Victoria lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at firstname.lastname@example.org.