A Simple Favor


Cocktails and besties, the perfect combination.

(2018) Suspense (Lionsgate) Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding, Eric Johnson, Jean Smart, Sarah Baker, Gia Sandhu, Kelly McCormack, Glenda Braganza, Linda Cardellini, Andrew Rannells, Rupert Friend, Joshua Satine, Ian Ho, Glenda Braganza, Danielle Bourgon, Andrew Moodie, Bashir Salahuddin, Aparna Nancheria, Gia Sandhu, Katherine Cullen. Directed by Paul Feig

Da Queen will tell you that I love a good whodunit. Da Queen will also tell you I despise a lazy one. A Simple Favor falls somewhere in between; I don’t love it but I don’t hate it either.

Stephanie (Kendrick) is a suburban supermom who has a mommy vlog full of life hacks for moms and so on. Her son (Satine) is a school chum of the son (Ho) of Emily (Lively), a high-powered public relations VP for a high-powered New York fashion firm led by the aptly named Dennis Nylon (Friend) who never met a wardrobe he couldn’t insult, especially if it didn’t involve his own clothing line.

Stephanie and Emily bond over martinis and quickly become besties, sharing their deep dirty secrets – Emily’s marriage to struggling writer Sean (Golding) is crumbling. Emily’s job is demanding more and more of her time and Stephanie is only too happy to pick up both boys from school, but then one night, Emily doesn’t come to pick up her boy – nor does she show up the next day. Stephanie fears the worst.

But Stephanie is a bit of an amateur sleuth and when the police don’t seem to have any leads on the whereabouts of Emily, Stephanie takes over looking for the lost item as any proper mom would. And what she finds…isn’t what she expects.

Paul Feig, director of Bridesmaids, isn’t afraid to inject some humor – okay, a lot of humor – into the neo-noir thriller. Sometimes, the movie seems almost schizophrenic at times. The tone varies from light to dark and sometimes in between. The chemistry between Lively and Kendrick absolutely works; they both look like polar opposites but it isn’t hard to see what draws the two characters together. The humor works well, but surprisingly it’s the thriller portion that’s less successful; the denouement isn’t hard to figure out in advance and the movie definitely loses narrative steam during the last third. Still, the things that work in A Simple Favor work very well; the things that don’t can be overlooked.

REASONS TO SEE: Kendrick and Lively have excellent chemistry.
REASONS TO AVOID: More or less mindless entertainment, appearances to the contrary.
FAMILY VALUES: There is sexual content and some graphic nudity, drug use, violence and profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While the character of Emily is a heavy drinker, Blake Lively (who plays her) has been a teetotaler all her life.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Hulu, Microsoft, Vudu. YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/10/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 85% positive reviews: Metacritic: 67/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Gone Girl
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Searching

Motherhood


Motherhood

Uma Thurman sheepishly realizes instead of transmitting her resume she sent her baby pictures instead.

(2009) Comedy (Freestyle Releasing) Uma Thurman, Anthony Edwards, Minnie Driver, Daisy Tahan, Alice Drummond, Dale Soules, Jodie Foster, Clea Lewis, Jose Constantino, Valentino Bonaccio, Aunjanue Ellis. Directed by Katherine Dieckmann

There was once an advertisement for Army recruiting that boasted “We do more before 6am than most people do all day.” Obviously the copy writer for this ad hasn’t spent much time with moms.

Perhaps there is nothing on earth more harried than a West Village mom, and that’s exactly what Eliza (Thurman) is, on both counts. She has a birthday party to plan for her six-year-old daughter Clara (Tahan) and a whole lot to deal with, including an absent-minded husband (Edwards) who’s no bleeping help, a movie being shot on her street, forcing her to move her car far enough away that lugging the party accoutrements becomes a Herculean task, trying to make it to each store to pick up said accoutrements in a limited amount of time, getting kids to play dates, classes and  quite possibly, formal dress balls (okay, the last one was a joke) and still trying to keep her sanity enough to write a 500-word essay on motherhood for a parenting magazine.

Still, she keeps up a stiff upper lip, manages to fight and make up with her best friend Sheila (Driver), make a Jodie Foster (herself) spotting, and dance with a handsome young courier (Bonaccio) who shows her a kindness. It’s all in a day’s work for a modern urban mom.

The movies often treat moms as either absolute idiots or saints married to idiots. Few movies really go to the trouble to examine the life of a mom in a realistic way. I don’t know if Dieckmann is a mom or married, but she seems to have a good handle on what it means in this age to be a mom.

Motherhood has been synonymous with sacrifice since…well, forever. Women are by nature nurturers and givers; such characters don’t necessarily make for compelling movie characters. However, Thurman gives Elyse a certain frazzled charm that is likable and interesting. Elyse is far from a saint – she flirts with the courier and is known to be insensitive from time to time. She messes up from time to time and has a truckload of self-doubt parked in her driveway.

Thurman started out her career essentially taking roles that spotlighted her tremendous physical charms, but has proven to be a pretty darn good actress as well. She really captures that frantic kind of parental stress that requires parents to give EVERYTHING to their little tykes; from the perfect birthday party to the perfect childhood.

I’ve always found that mind-boggling. No childhood is EVER EVER EVER going to be perfect and to think that you can provide your child one by taking him to Tae Kwan Do in the evening and soccer practice in the afternoons is the height of self-delusion. We think that if we involve ourselves completely in every aspect of their lives and give them everything they want somehow they’re going to turn out better adjusted than we did.

Bollocks, and unfortunately, the movie buys into that idea like a crazed shopper trying to grab the last Furby on Christmas Eve. Still, this is a pretty solid cast (although this is clearly Thurman’s movie) and while the movie has a sitcom-ish feel to it, it at least is a bit more realistic in its depiction of urban parenting than most movies are.

Being a mom is perhaps the most rewarding endeavor a human being can undertake; it is also the most complicated and frustrating. There are no manuals and no do-overs. Seeing the life of a West Village mom over the course of one day may sound boring on the surface, but there is a lot in it that touches your own experience in a big way. Like the late great Gene Siskel, I like a good slice of life movie and that’s precisely what this is.

WHY RENT THIS: An interesting view of the trials and tribulations that motherhood brings on, particularly to a city girl. Thurman makes a mighty fine MILF.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Sometimes feels more like a sit-com than a movie. Seems to buy into the idea that a good parent is one who sacrifices everything so that a kid gets everything they want.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some elements of sexuality in language and situation, as well as some suggestion of drug use. There’s also a bit of bad language (although not too bad).

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie had eleven paying customers its opening weekend in London; one of the worst showings ever for a premiere.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $726,354 on an unreported production budget; the film probably lost money.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Bedtime Stories