A Simple Favor shows off entrapped women
Film fails to look at struggles of motherhood
Despite recent efforts to feature more women-centric stories in Hollywood, few films are honest about the specific pressures of motherhood. A Simple Favor, based on the 2017 novel by Darcy Bell, is a continuation of the recent trend of female-led thrillers, but it separates itself from the pack by featuring two mothers with very different struggles as its leads. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t fully embrace itself as a platform to explore the challenges of motherhood.
The film introduces the audience to Stephanie (Anna Kendrick), a stay-at-home mother and recent widow. To cope with her loneliness, she runs a “mommy blog” on YouTube, where she shares recipes, crafts, and motherhood tips.
Stuck in the Connecticut suburbs and socially isolated, Stephanie becomes obsessed with others seeing her as perfect. While desperate for companionship, Stephanie doesn’t realize that her vlog, as well as her need to be overly involved in her son’s classroom, makes her seem self-obsessed and condescending to most fellow parents.
In the film’s opening scene, Stephanie tells us, via her vlog, that friend and fellow mom Emily (Blake Lively) has gone missing. She then starts using her vlog to update followers on the case, forms an inappropriately close relationship with Emily’s husband Sean (Henry Golding), and discovers troubling truths about both Emily and her husband.
The fact that Stephanie refers to the missing Emily as her “best friend” seems a little odd given that the women had only known each other for a few weeks. It’s unclear if Stephanie feels an unusual closeness to Emily because she’s been otherwise socially isolated, if Stephanie is exaggerating her relationship with the missing woman for attention, or some combination of both.
As depicted through flashbacks, Emily is in obvious contrast to Stephanie. While Stephanie has created an identity for herself completely centered around motherhood, Emily has an intensive job working full-time for a high-profile fashion designer.
In the novel, Emily is resentful that her demanding career keeps her from spending time with her son and despises her unsympathetic coworkers, which is only vaguely hinted at in the film. The children themselves also only appear in the periphery of the film despite being the center of both Stephanie and Emily’s worlds in the novel.
Despite her glamorous lifestyle and luxurious home, Emily admits to Stephanie that she and Sean are facing financial difficulties. It’s also hinted that Emily has a drinking problem as she’s holding a martini glass in nearly every scene she’s in.
More obviously, the film makes Emily’s habit of drinking a strong martini in the middle of the afternoon seem cool and glamorous instead of an obvious cry for help.
While the book is a straightforward thriller, the film is darkly comedic, likely due to the influence of director Paul Feig, most known for the comedy Bridesmaids. Stephanie’s obsession with her reputation is highlighted in the film by Kendrick asking a police officer what gossip he’s heard about her dating life, a seemingly frivolous concern when her friend is missing.
Stephanie’s first visit to Emily’s house is also marked by a nude painting of Emily displayed in the kitchen, which is too absurd not to laugh at. The comedic undertones also help to make some of the more outlandish plot points later in the novel—like soap opera-esque “long lost family members reappearing”—seem less absurd.
However, masking a plot of two unhappy mothers as a comedy downplays the very real struggles of motherhood.
Unfortunately, the film missed the opportunity to show an honest, messy portrayal of being a mother, but it’s still a gin-soaked good time for moviegoers.