So much of the success of A Simple Favor was destined to live and die with the mystery at its center. The mystery can be tiptoed around, peeked at, even played hide-and-seek with. But at some point, director Paul Feig was going to have to drop the setup, take the mystery head on, and get to the payoff. Regrettably, the transition into the payoff begins a series of tonal shifts that are made further disorienting by a multitude of twists that cause a once fairly tight film to fall into a dizzying tailspin.
The film is carried by Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick who perfectly embody their respective boozy, high-fashion diva-mom and quirky, DIY-vlogger mom characters. An unlikely pairing at first that quickly becomes a friendship that seems derived from a potent cocktail of Bad Moms, Dateline, and Real Housewives. In fact, their interactions and banter are so enjoyable that the plot which forces them apart becomes wholly regrettable. It’s a wonder Feig didn’t scrap the plot and opt for a way to keep the pair on screen together for as much of the runtime as possible.
Obviously, the plot unfolded just as the trailer preordained and the whodunnit mystery wedged itself into the story like the annoying person who forces their way onto a couch between two friends. As the plot shifts, the tone tries to keep up but stumbles from scene to scene. Ranging from dark and brooding (death and drug use) to silly (rapping in a car) to erotic thriller (shades of Fatal Attraction and a direct rip of Sleeping with the Enemy) and back again. It’s a bit much to digest and makes you wonder what type of movie you’re watching. By the end, you may even wonder if you’ve been watching a satire of a Lifetime movie.
As for the central mystery that unfolds in the third act, it lacks any real sense of payoff. Instead of a core thread that the audience can pull on to slowly unravel the mystery, Feig opts to play out as many scenarios as possible. The audience is forced to constantly guess who is partnered up with who and who they should be rooting for. This can be fun if the guesses feel informed or educated, but in A Simple Favor they feel like throwing darts while blindfolded. When the movie finally arrives at its final destination, it feels like it took the longest possible path to get to the most obvious outcome.
To put it bluntly, A Simple Favor would have been far more enjoyable had it stayed, well… simple.