What is Paul Feig’s A Simple Favor (2018) about? I can only say for certain that A Simple Favor is interested in female relationships. For a film with so much potential and so much genre bending its approach is rather elementary. Mostly this is due to the films direction by Feig. It is as uncinematic as it is riddled with the most basic signifiers and lazy editing. If an object is going to be important, it is given a tight close-up; if a character is alone in a space, they speak to themselves; if a character is in a supporting role all of their dialogue is expository; so on and so forth. Feig even floods all of his shots with the same bright and even lighting, like a Lifetime original movie from 2005. And the performances by Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, and Henry Golding are likewise steeped in cliche and familiarity as if casting for type were a requirement.
A comedy-thriller or thriller-comedy in the hands of a more mature filmmaker, like Brian De Palma, Lee Daniels or Sara Driver, would crackle with subtle reflexivity and a sincerity of narrative that nurtures a natural urgency. A Simple Favor clearly intended to be a dark comedy in the guise of a thriller but manages only the comedy aspect of this equation. This renders the film as a kind of technical quagmire where one is never really sure what the filmmakers are saying or what their interests are specifically.
The one redeeming facet of A Simple Favor is that it wants to look at the effects a friendship between two women has on one of their identities (a time honored trope in films about women directed by men). What prevents this analysis from working though is, in addition to the issues of direction listed above, the broad manner with which Lively and Kendrick perform their characters which never reaches the plasticity of “camp” nor melodrama. Couple that bit of ill fated direction with the films refusal to grant its audience an intimate space with the characters and one is left with two caricatures instead of two people at the films center.
Brian De Palma’s Passion (2013), while managing to be darkly comic, is a tremendous tour de force of filmmaking technique with the same principal interests as A Simple Favor; female friendships. Both films approach their investigations from the standpoint of the thriller genre, and each make use of “camp” elements in their actors’ performances, but it is De Palma who succeeds in allowing his film to feel like a tangible world in which we (the audience) can immerse ourselves. De Palma is able to accomplish this task where Feig has failed by, to put it simply, doing the exact opposite of what the technical strategies of A Simple Favor are.