Warning: Spoilers ahead for A Simple Favor. Stop reading this and go watch it!!!!
Picture this: Your day is almost over. It has been an ordinary day. You did all your usual things — say, for example, you recorded a new episode of your mommy vlog (stay with me here). And you did the simple things you enjoy doing — say, for example, you signed up to volunteer at your kid’s preschool (please stay with me). Your day is almost over. You’ll go home, go through your usual nighttime routine, and go to bed, only to do it all again tomorrow.
But. Something interrupts the rhythm. Someone, rather. You’re just standing there, and she steps out of a car slowly — in slow motion, to be exact. It’s raining, but the raindrops can’t touch her. Sure, she’s got an umbrella, but there’s more than just that shielding her from the wetness — an invisible vortex that envelopes her, makes her untouchable, unknowable. She walks toward you, her hair bouncing so emphatically you can almost hear it throb. You catch a glimpse of her face, and your breath catches. You notice the beauty mark to the right (your left) of her nose. Stunned into silence, you notice that this is perhaps the most beautiful person you’ve ever seen. How have you not seen her before? Haven’t you seen her before?
In A Simple Favor, Blake Lively plays Emily Nelson, the whirlwind monster of a Mommi who struts into Anna Kendrick’s Stephanie Smothers’ life exactly as described above, wreaking havoc almost immediately, as she does with everyone she encounters. She’s so beautiful and mysterious that her writer husband has had writer’s block since the moment he met her (every jab she takes at his lack of creativity gives me life).
And he’s not the only one who she has creatively destroyed like some sort of artistic succubus. Linda Cardellini plays a character who I have affectionately dubbed “Knives Lesbian,” a very queer painter and definite ex of Emily who could only paint Emily when they were together and now can only paint knives in the wake of Emily leaving her and ruining her life. (Cardellini, as she often does, manages to give a standout performance with very little screentime.)
A Simple Favor gets off on blending and blurring genres. Not quite an all-out dark thriller in the vain of Gone Girl, it does borrow from that genre but, even more accurately, from Lifetime movies. Incest, revenge arson, frame jobs, affairs, and secret siblings all make appearances in this tableau of fuckery. It’s a Mommi murder mystery that knows exactly how ridiculous is, the whole cast in on the joke.
It’s all a turn of events for Paul Feig, who has directed straight-up comedies like Spy, The Heat, and Bridesmaids during his prolific career, but he’s bizarrely the right person for the job. He along with screenwriter Jessica Sharzer have adapted a novel that was universally panned for being convoluted, stiff, and miserable into something that, yes, is still convoluted but in the best way? It’s not taking itself too seriously and yet it isn’t one of those situations where it’s so bad it’s good. It’s dishy and fun and prods all sorts of tropes from the Lifetime canon in a way that feels more playful than derivative. That early scene depicting Emily’s entrance into Stephanie’s life encompasses everything the movie does well with its drama and seduction, laced with a pointed and self-aware sense of humor. Stephanie’s sense of being knocked off balance is palpable. Emily’s allure, heart-stopping. A Simple Favor can cut deep even when it’s having fun.
Everything down to the sound editing is a tantalizing combo of seductive and frightening. The snap of Emily’s umbrella (“she definitely topped that umbrella” – Riese) perfectly punctuates that grand entrance she makes. When they get back to Emily’s house, she starts removing pieces of her, like, 75-piece suit?! And Stephanie can barely contain her arousal at all the whips of each. piece. coming. off.
Because yes, have I mentioned that it’s also incredibly gay? From the moment Emily enters, Stephanie falls under her spell, like Emily’s husband, like Knives Lesbian. They even kiss, just moments after Stephanie’s crying about her loneliness (A Simple Favor often touches on that quivering line between grief and sex), and while Emily might move on quickly, Stephanie doesn’t seem to. So much of what Emily does unnerves her in a way she can hardly wrap her mind around. Mere minutes after meeting, Emily’s already calling her baby and, sometimes, because this movie is clearly trying to kill me, “baby girl.”
“Baby, if you apologize again, I’m going to have to slap the sorry out of you,” Emily tells Stephanie on their first date*, and I had to stifle a scream.
*Okay, it’s just the first time Stephanie goes to Emily’s house, but Stephanie sees Emily’s naked body (in a painting) and Emily makes them strong gin martinis, and Stephanie does a little dance for a bemused Emily while French music plays, so yeah! It’s a date!!!!!!
Blake Lively, it turns out, can also wear the fuck out of a suit. She shows up to a meeting with Stephanie in a cemetery wearing one that shows the entirety of her boobs, and it’s a wonder Stephanie doesn’t just crawl into her own grave right then and there.
But perhaps the most important Gay Fact about this movie is that it was written by the same woman who directed “Layup,” the single greatest episode of The L Word. I had already decided this movie was manufactured in a lab specifically for me (mommis! murder! moms making out after crying! REVENGE ARSON! these are a few of my favorite things!), but learning that it was written by the woman behind the single episode of television I have watched the most amount of times makes me feel cosmically connected to A Simple Favor, pulled into its chaotic orbit like Stephanie is to Emily.