Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Film Review: A Simple Favor

Sexuality/Nudity Objectionable
Violence Objectionable
Vulgarity Objectionable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Objectionable

 Some movies fail because they lack the required artistic talent and skill.  Some movies fail because their thematic and moral content is so horrible as to be completely noxious.

Both are true for Paul Feig's A Simple Favor.

I hated this movie.

I hated, hated, hated this movie.

I am going to let spoilers fly in this film because it would be impossible to ruin this absolute piece-of-trash film.

The movie begins with Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick), a wannabe Martha Stewart for the YouTube age.  She is an over-achieving, stay at home mom who wants everything to be perfect for her son and wants everyone to do the same (her name is "Smothers."  Get it?  GET IT?).  Her son Miles (Joshua Satine) becomes friends with Nicky (Ian Ho), whose mother is the mysterious, alluring, and effortlessly cool Emily Nelson (Blake Lively).  Emily foils Stephanie's goodie-goodie exterior.  Emily swears wildly in front of her child, drinks in the middle of the day, and doesn't give a fig about making other people happy.  Stephanie is attracted to Emily's bold personality and the two become friends.  One day, Emily asks Stephanie for "a simple favor" and pick up her son from school.  But Emily never returns.  This sets up the mystery of what happened to Emily.  Did she run away?  Was she killed by her seemingly perfect and put-upon husband Sean (Henry Golding)?  Did her mysterious past catch up with her?

As intriguing as these questions sound, they don't matter for one simple reason: you do not care about anyone in this movie.

It is one thing to make flawed characters that reveal layers over time.  But writers Jessica Sharzer and Darcy Bell have created characters so repugnant that I wonder if they have ever had actual contact with real human beings before.  And this would not be as bad if the reveal of their moral turpitude was slowly revealed in the last act.  Instead, they decide to throw you into the deep end of their perversions right from the beginning.  The weirdest part is that they think they are making their characters more attractive to their audience.  Again, I really wonder what kind of sick company they are keeping to think that any of their ideas work.

I can tell you the exact moment I have up on the movie and it was in the middle of the first act.  Stephanie and Emily are drinking while their children are in another room playing.  Emily is teasing Stephanie for not being bad.  So Stephanie tells her a story.  I apologize in advance for the grossness of what I am about to write, but you need to understand depths of depravity of this film.  And this story is accompanied by visual flashbacks, so you have that element as well.

Stephanie says that her father died when she was a senior in high school.  At his funeral, a mysterious young man who looked like her father arrived.  It turns out that her dad had a secret child before he married Stephanie's mom.  The young man decides to stay the night.  Stephanie sets up a bed for him in the basement.  Stephanie is hurting at the loss of her father.  And in their mutual grief, they have sex with each other.  Let me repeat, the main character of the movie as sex with her brother.  Emily's reaction to this is admiration at Stephanie's perversion.  She even constantly gives her the joking nickname "Brother-F'er" (but said with the full vulgarity).  To make matters even worse, it is implied that Stephanie continue the affair with her brother for years.

Again, this is in the first act and Stephanie is our main character.  We are supposed to root for her and empathize with her.

As soon as this scene occurred I actually looked around the theater to see if everyone else was having the same reaction I was.  I realized that we still had more than an hour of movie to go, so I strapped in for the depraved ride to end.

Feig fails at every level to tell a good story.  He wants to say something about powerful, empowered women, but it comes off as so completely uninspired.  When Stephanie first enters Emily's house there is a nude painting of Emily hanging that thrusts her genitals towards the viewer's face as if Feig is trying to make some super awkward "girl power" statement.

Feig also fails at making anything out of the mystery of Emily's disappearance.  In fact, he reveals the truth way too early.  The denouement tries to copy the movie Gone Girl, but fails at that too.  The final confrontation is intent on making shocking twists and turns that it defies all logic.  If you ever watched the show Community, they did an episode where characters kept pulling out guns in a parody of twists on top of twists.  It worked on the show because they were doing comedy.  It fails in the movie because you are supposed to take it seriously.  And the ultimate take down of the villain is something out of a Will Ferrel movie and has no place in anything we've seen before.

Nothing in this movie makes sense, logically or morally.  The only thing that helps is Lively's performance.  She does her best with the awful script and actually projects the coolness of the character with great charisma.  I have been a fan of Kendrick for a long time, but she feels much more like she is doing caricature rather than character.  Golding is fine as the husband, but he also doesn't have much to work with.

This movie could actually have been something.  Stephanie is such a horrible person that if she was set up as unreliable narrator, then maybe the film would have made a modicum of sense.  But instead, they play it straight.  Feig doesn't seem to be able to pull the trigger on genuine narrative complexity.  And his ending shows a complete lack of confidence in his ability to stick the landing, so he reverts back to his slapstick comedy roots.

This film is a cesspool.  When people talk about how Hollywood creates moral rot, this is Exibit A.  Rather than saying something universal about women or relationship, all this film does is show us the jaundiced moral world-view of people like Paul Feig and all you can do is thank God that you do not live in his morally messed up world.

image by Yasir72.multan

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