Page & Screen: A Simple Favor

Page & Screen: A Simple Favor

A semi-regular, ongoing series of posts where I discuss movie adaptations of books, because I love books and I love movies.

A Simple Favor first entered my reading orbit when I saw a teaser trailer for its movie adaptation. Paul Feig, a comedy genius, was making… a mystery thriller? With Anna Kendrick, who’s also known for her comedic chops? Ok, I’ll bite. But I’ve got to read the book first, of course.

I almost wish I hadn’t. Even going into the book with low expectations, I was still disappointed as I reached the final pages. Everyone is trying to write the next Gone Girl, and at first I wondered if I wasn’t judging A Simple Favor unfairly due to these comparisons. Despite similarities between the two, this is no Gone Girl. It deserves to be judged on it’s own merits. But the longer I sat with A Simple Favor, the more I realized that it’s just not a good book.

My biggest issue with Favor is its two female characters, Stephanie and Emily. I don’t mind that neither of them is particularly likable. I love a good unlikable protagonist. What bothers me is that both are reduced one dimensional stereotypes. The women in this world are either helpless or evil, victims or criminals, helicopter parents or blasé to the entire experience.

We’re given glimpses of both Stephanie and Emily meant to make us question these notions, but they’re unconvincing. At the end of the day, everyone acts the way you’d expect them to, a few minor exceptions notwithstanding. There are no surprises, despite about 20 twists thrown into the book.

Despite being disappointed, I was still keen to see the film. (Just not “pay full price for a ticket” keen, so I waited until it was the discounted movie of the week.) I was interested to see how Feig would handle this humorless book, given that comedy’s what he does best. There was no doubt that he’d turn Favor into a black comedy, but it was unclear how well the mediocre source material would translate to the screen.

What the movie A Simple Favor does well is blend very dark comedy with the mystery/thriller backbone of the story. There are some very weird elements in the book, and Feig manages to deal with them in a manner that’s both serious and funny. The tension created by plot reveals is often lifted with sharp comedy (one of my favorite involves Blake Lively’s character using some very filthy language that I can’t type here because it would be a spoiler).

Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively both shine, largely due to some smart character changes made in the script. Both ladies are given more emotional depth, and in one case, a lot more agency. Henry Golding plays a hapless husband, functioning as little more than eye candy. It’s a nice reversal of how women characters (especially wives) are often treated, but after Crazy Rich Asians, I hope directors start giving him more to do soon.

Just like it’s paper counterpart, Favor the movie is full of too many twists and turns. It was fun to see how Feig decided to change up the ending, playing a few big reveals for laughs rather than gasps. However, both the book and film conclusions never fully gel into anything particularly believable or interesting. I had a good time watching, but doubt I’d go back to movie again.

Reading A Simple Favor is a big no from me, but maybe check out the movie if you’re interested. The cast is clearly having fun, and there are some great emotional moments that do land well. Plus, Lively’s menswear inspired wardrobe is immaculate.

Book: A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell (304 pages)
Movie: A Simple Favor (1h, 57 min)

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