‘A Simple Favour’ is a 50s Film Noir Repackaged for the 21st-century

A Simple Favour is a movie that has drawn comparisons to Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train but had the clear distinction of being directed by a definitively comedic talent such as Paul Feig.  The film has been marketed as a thriller following the dark and tantalising friendship between two juxtaposing mothers, Emily and Stephanie, whose lives cross paths when their children become friends at school. The film’s tone drastically changes from an introspective into the lives of stay at home mothers vs working mothers to a tense thriller when Emily (a cruelly gorgeous Blake Lively) goes missing after asking Stephanie (a brilliantly awkward Anna Kendrick) for a simple favour – to pick her son up from school. Supporting players include the always-hilarious Andrew Rannells as a fellow parent, whose character rarely evolves beyond comic levity, and the new king of rom-com Henry Golding as Emily’s husband Sean who serves as the eye-candy. There is also a surprising and out of character turn from Linda Cardellini, herself experiencing a career renaissance of sorts, but I won’t spoil the many twists of the film by revealing her character.

As opposed to female-led thrillers of recent years, A Simple Favour resembles film noirs of the 1950s with the addition of Feig’s signature comedy. There is the Hitchcockian blonde (Emily), the innocent, virginal woman (Stephanie) and a man (Sean) who thinks he is in control but who becomes embroiled in the labyrinthine mystery created by the ‘evil’ woman. As opposed to villainising and stereotyping the women, as they were in noir classics such as Out of the Past and Double Indemnity, Feig has reshaped them for contemporary viewers. The core relationship in this film is between the two women, as opposed to being linked by the man. They are fleshed out as extremely flawed women with chilling backgrounds who are struggling to be good parents. Additionally, Feig uses his trademark humour present in Bridesmaids and Spy to give the film a darkly comic turn, using the women to parody and inspect the stereotypes of working and stay at home mothers. Kendrick’s performance especially is a standout in cradling several tones at once; she balances comedy with tension and innocence with darkness. However, aside from the novel variation on a recently well-tread genre, the film is somewhat flawed.

In a similar way to the noirs of the 50s, the plot becomes so labyrinthine that modern audiences would be forgiven for struggling as the film continues to twist and turn throughout until no one is sure what is going on. There are several tired genre tropes within the plot, which, again, I won’t go into detail on as they will be major spoilers. Although the use of comedy is interesting, it is not well-embedded enough to create an even tone throughout the film. Darker scenes lose their gravity due to comedy and the audience struggles at times to understand when they are laughing out of humour and when their laughter has been incited by shock.

A Simple Favour is a wildly entertaining film powered by the vibrant performances of its two female leads, which hearkens back to the glory days of 50s film noir. Paul Feig, the master of female-led comedies, spices up the genre with his own brand of comedy, but this can also cause the film to often become uneven in tone and cause the plot to become secondary to the dialogue. It is interesting that a comedic director has chosen to direct such a film in the current socio-political climate, as film noir itself was born at a time of great social unrest and anxiety in America. It is no surprise that Feig has chosen to resurrect this genre at this time and the injection of his affinity for female comedy gives it a contemporary context. It is perhaps not an incredibly clever or complex film but it is certainly entertaining, which is cause enough to go see it.


by Aleena Augustine

Aleena is a Classics graduate who splits her time between High Wycombe (just outside of London) and wherever the latest film or TV show she is bingeing is set. She enjoys watching rom-coms (they are not just a guilty pleasure), coming of age films (from John Hughes to Greta Gerwig), animated films (cries at every single one), comedies featuring a strong female ensemble (thank you, Bridesmaids) and psychological thrillers (BONUS if they’re directed by David Fincher). Her favourite films are Before Sunrise, Inside Out, Zodiac and When Harry Met Sally. You can also find her on her blog, That’s What She Said and as a contributor for the music blog, Music Bloggery.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.