'A Simple Favor': 6 reasons to see Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively's movie
Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively star in a mystery thriller, "A Simple Favor." USA TODAY
In the stylish new mystery "A Simple Favor," Blake Lively's fashion design executive warns Anna Kendrick's supermom, "Oh, you do not want to be friends with me. Trust me."
Oh, yes we do! Paul Feig's latest movie gives the "Bridesmaids" and "The Heat" director a break from pure comedy — and a chance to tackle a stylish, cat-and-mouse mystery that feels much like a suspenseful beach read.
With its glamorous cast, humorous undertones and wicked twists, "A Simple Favor" is a fun way to say goodbye to the summer cinema season. We spoke recently with Feig, who elaborated on the film's six essential treats.
1. The opening credits
Before you even dig in to your popcorn, "A Simple Favor" announces its tone by mixing a zippy French pop song with images of purses, brownies and cocktails. Instead of the unrelieved bleakness of thrillers like HBO's "Sharp Objects," get ready for quirky characters in upscale settings.
"It's my way to tell the audience, 'OK, this is a thriller and you're going to be scared and it's going to be dark and all this. But if you feel like laughing at something, I have given you permission to laugh at it. ... It's all on purpose.' " says Feig. "If I had started this movie with really dramatic music and 'Oh, this is going to be tense,' and then something really funny happens, you'd be like 'Wait, is this suppose to be funny or did you make a mistake?' "
2. Anna Kendrick
The "Pitch Perfect" star is, yes, perfection as Stephanie, a tightly-wound mommy blogger who wears cute animal-print socks from Target and needs to be told not to take all the jobs at her young son's school events.
But Stephanie isn't a victim here, according to Feig. She is a woman who becomes an amateur sleuth when her new best friend, Emily — whose son goes to the same school — disappears suddenly without a trace.
And Stephanie, it's revealed, has secrets of her own to keep.
As with "Bridesmaids," "The Heat" and the fanboy-slammed, female-cast reboot of "Ghostbusters," Feig explores the relationship dynamics between the friends. He took on "A Simple Favor" not as a woman-in-peril movie, but as a thriller with two compelling female characters.
"There have been so many bad portrayals of women on screen over the years, I just really want to make sure I don't add to that," he explains.
3. Blake Lively
The "Gossip Girl" veteran revels in the role of Emily, a deliciously anti-helicopter mom.
When Stephanie suggests a play date for their sons, Emily quips, "I already have a play date with a symphony of anti-depressants." And when Stephanie drops one of her frequent apologies as they bond over afternoon drinks, Emily warns, "Baby, if you apologize again, I'm going to have to slap the sorry out of you."
Decked out in stunning, menswear-inspired suits and dripping with fierce attitude, Emily dazzles Stephanie. It's such a great performance by Lively that you almost wish the character would be transplanted to a TV spin-off called "Gossip Moms."
4. Henry Golding
Talk about serendipitous timing. Golding is now so famous for his debut film, the box-office smash "Crazy Rich Asians," that he recently was added to a new poster for "A Simple Favor," in which he plays Sean, Emily's stressed-out husband.
Feig recalls hearing about Golding, who'd just finished filming on "Crazy Rich Asians," and going online to watch him in his former job as a travel show host. Immediately, Feig was impressed with Golding's charisma.
"I called up Jon Chu, who directed 'Crazy Rich Asians' and and just said, 'Jon, I'm thinking of casting this guy. Is he the real deal? Can he act?' And he said, 'Henry is the greatest. You will love him and he's so talented and he's a natural and he takes direction. He just wants to be as good as he can.' "
After Golding did an audition and a screen test with Lively, Feig knew he was the right guy for the part.
"You just go...there's no way this guy isn't going to be a star!" says Feig.
5. The movie's throwback to sleek mysteries of yore
Feig says he was inspired by Alfred Hitchcock movies "just because of the tone that he always found, which was he was really able to walk that line between thriller and comedy."
Feig also admires Hitchcock regular Cary Grant's combination of humor and elegance, which is an essential combination of "A Simple Favor."
"I love thrillers," he says. "I love the genre. But I always find myself wishing they were a little more fun at the same time, while still taking them dead seriously."
6. The 'Homeland' angle
As fans of the Showtime spy drama know, Rupert Friend's Peter Quinn endured enough pain and suffering on the pay-cable series for at least 10 characters.
That's why it's such a delight to see the British actor portray a hilariously arrogant fashion designer named Dennis Nylon.
"Never wear a vintage Hermes scarf with a Gap T-shirt," Nylon chides Stephanie at one point. "If you were truly Emily's friend, you'd know that."
The assignment must have been therapeutic for Friend after all those seasons of pay-cable agony.
Says Feig: "The funny thing is we sent the script to him just to see if he wanted to do anything in it and he comes back and he wants to do Dennis Nylon. I was like, 'What?' I never would have predicted that, because I know him from 'Homeland,' too and was like, 'You're super serious. How can you play this role?' And it turns out he's really funny."