REVIEW / DRAMA-COMEDY
A SIMPLE FAVOR (M18)
117 minutes/Now showing/2.5 stars
The story: Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) is a single parent and mummy vlogger who becomes friends with the glamorous Emily (Blake Lively). The self-effacing Stephanie becomes infatuated with the confident, cosmopolitan Emily, who is married to writer Sean (Henry Golding), until a tragedy reveals secrets about Emily's past. Based on the 2017 novel of the same name by Darcey Bell.
This movie sits awkwardly in the space between melodrama, thriller mystery and comedy. It feels like it has been dropped there by accident, the result of a lack of a clear idea on what the story is about.
Darcey Bell's book - from the sound of it - sizzles with twists and makes the most of Stephanie's 1992 Single White Female-like transformation from mouse to master under Emily's influence.
Those juicy airport-novel touches are oddly absent here.
Kendrick is fine as the single mum beginning to explore her wild side, but it is a shame that instead of casting a more conventional-looking actress - thus making the journey from drab to diva more dramatic - producers went with Kendrick's brand of adorable.
Lively's effortlessly cool Emily, however, is spot-on. She exudes just the right amount of menace.
One wishes that the same could be said of Golding's Sean.
The actor, who grabbed Hollywood's attention as Nick in Crazy Rich Asians (2018), is the standard portion of beefcake found in women-driven mysteries such as this. The story hints at him having dark and dangerous depths, but Golding's portrayal is stubbornly vanilla.
Director Paul Feig seems to think that the Malaysian-British actor's dapper presence and posh accent are enough to make a character.
Feig, of course, directed the raucous hit comedy Bridesmaids (2011) and since then has specialised in women-led comedies of increasingly iffy quality (The Heat, 2013; Spy, 2015; Ghostbusters, 2016).
Because he is working with source material that came from a novel, he is more constrained by the plot's demands.
With his hands tied, Feig cannot find a way to integrate the first act's jokey tone with the thriller elements that come later. So the jokes dry up - abruptly.
Stripped of humour, the story withers. What remains is a low-stakes detective story that delivers plot, with some degree of fun, but sapped of imagination.