A Simple Favor: Darkly Comedic Thriller Has Energetic Performances, Great Twists

3.5 out of 5 stars (Above Average)

A Simple Favor Poster
Image from https://www.imdb.com/

A Simple Favor may well be the most ambitious and outrageous film so far this year.  Director Paul Feig (Spy, The Heat) has outdone himself here, crafting a darkly comedic and endlessly twisty thriller with wonderful performances from Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively, the latter of which has never been this unhinged before.  A Simple Favor combines the chick flick, pitch-black comedy, and mystery-thriller with surprising finesse, making for one of the most entertaining movies of the year.  I have decided not to place the trailer here so you can go in as cold as possible, as I did.  Trust me, it’s worth it.

Straight-laced single mom Stephanie Smothers (Kendrick once again showing great range) has two things going for her in life: her devotion to her son, and a cooking vlog.  Despite the snickers of the other parents, Stephanie is cool as a cucumber with her routine life, without a desire to change.  Kendrick is absolutely wonderful at playing this lovably mousy and pathetic character, making her endearing to us rather than irritating.

Stephanie’s life is thrown for a loop when she meets the profane and erratic Emily Nelson (a fantastic Lively).  They become fast friends, sharing afternoon martinis and their deepest secrets until Emily disappears one day.  Now, Stephanie and Emily’s husband Sean (Henry Golding, Crazy Rich Asians) must piece together what happened to her, taking them both down a rabbit hole of outrageousness I won’t dare spoil here.

A Simple Favor is one of the most memorable films I’ve seen all year.  Kendrick and Lively have great chemistry together, making it easy to buy their fast friendship as well as Stephanie’s determination to find her friend.  You’ve never seen Lively this, well, lively, before, and she is having a devil of a time playing this character.  Kendrick also impresses, taking a character that could have been extremely unlikable or annoying and making you feel sympathy towards her while still laughing at her on occasion.  Golding is good as the husband, but doesn’t leave as large of an impression.  While no one will win Oscars for their work here, these are currently my favorite performances in a Paul Feig film to date.

Feig’s direction and Jessica Sharzer’s script are well-matched for each other, balancing the comedic and thriller aspects surprisingly well and providing something for everyone: A little bit of a chick flick, a little bit of dark comedy, and a little bit of a twisty mystery.  Trust me when I say that you will have no idea where this film is going based on its opening minutes, and if you do, you’ll enjoy how the twists are executed.  I went in knowing very little about the film’s plot besides it being a mystery of some kind, and I suggest you see this with as little knowledge as possible.  Trust me, you don’t want anything spoiled.

A Simple Favor balances its tones and genres easily, shifting from chick flick to darkly comic thriller with surprising sharpness.  Paul Feig’s direction perfectly complements Jessica Sharzer’s script, and the leads are absolute dynamite.  If you want a twisty thriller and don’t mind a bit of profane or raunchy humor, this is one Simple Favor you’ll definitely want to accept.

Rated R for Sexual Content and Language Throughout, Some Graphic Nude Images, Drug Use, and Violence

Wade into “The Shallows” For a Bloody Good Time

3.5 out of 5 stars (above average)

The Shallows poster
Image from https://www.amazon.com/

I walked into The Shallows thinking it would be a borderline exploitative examination of star Blake Lively in a beautiful bikini, that just so happened to involve a shark. To my astonishment, the film provided a strong female character, gritty realism, and a career-best performance from Ms. Lively.  The Shallows is Jaws for a new generation.  It is a bloody and thrilling ride from start to finish that will make you think twice about going in the water.

Lively plays Nancy Adams, a medical student and surfer coming to terms with the death of her mother some time ago. She has decided to visit her mom’s favorite hidden beach in order to gain some closure, while her father and sister only wish for her to come home.

When the day comes, Nancy ends up going out by herself (a big mistake for anyone) and ends up wiping out and crawling on a rock about 200 yards from shore. The problem?  No one knows she’s out there, and there’s a giant, bloodthirsty shark circling her position.  Now, Nancy must use her wits to escape the shark, all while nursing dangerous injuries and rapidly depleting strength.

The Shallows is a rare kind of PG-13 movie in that we actually see blood. Most films with this rating are toothless when it comes to showing aftermaths of violent attacks, but The Shallows sticks to its guns and isn’t afraid to show us the realistically gory results of the shark attacks.  It isn’t over-the-top in any way, just gritty and intense.  This is NOT a film to take your young kids to, as they will be scared by the shark and other environmental hazards Nancy must face in her journey for survival.  I don’t scare easily, but many of these sequences had me glued to my seat hoping that she would not die.  I was thoroughly invested in this character, something that few modern movies are able to do, and felt every hit she took.

That solid investment is due to the gritty performance by Blake Lively. Previously, I saw Lively as an actress who took on relatively safe roles, either because she didn’t have the range or couldn’t get any meaty parts.  I was proven wrong with this, watching with awe as Lively delivered an A-game performance that makes me excited for her next project.  This isn’t academy-award winning here, but based on what I had seen her do before (Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants series and Green Lantern), I never would have pegged her for this kind of role.  I guess it just goes to show that some actors just get some bad luck starting out, but secretly have it in them to deliver a great and memorable performance when given the chance.

The camerawork is also well-done, allowing intensity to build throughout and even make some effective jump scares. The shark scenes are jerky without using too much shakeycam, meaning you can actually see the shark when its onscreen.  I don’t know about you, but I personally like to be able to see the thing that might haunt my nightmares in a movie.  Lastly, the filmmakers want you to admire Lively’s beauty, but not in a pervy way.  They show you close-ups of her bikini, but not exploitatively.  However, if  you just want to come and look at Blake Lively, you’ll get your money’s worth.

The Shallows is a well-acted, gritty, and unexpectedly scary thriller that proves that there may still be a reason to be afraid of the water. Enter them if you dare.

Rated PG-13 for Bloody Images, Intense Sequences of Peril, and Brief Strong Language