A Simple Favour

Dir. Paul Feig

Adapted from Darcy Bell’s novel and directed by Paul Feig, A Simple Favour is the suave female-led noir that I didn’t know I needed. Released in September of last year, the mystery thriller is so saturated with twists and turns, it’s almost impossible to go into the plot without spoilers, following the opening 20 minutes. So, here’s what I can say: 60s French pop, martinis, and, you know, a casual unexplained disappearance...

Anna Kendrick plays Stephanie Smothers, an awkward, annoyingly overbearing mum with an amusingly fitting name and a passion for cooking and vlogging. Doesn’t really seem like the basis for a thriller, but bear with it. Performing alongside Kendrick, under Feig’s direction, Blake Lively intertwines delightfully dark humour with a refreshingly blunt approach to parenthood to form Stephanie’s antithesis, Emily. She’s everything a woman like Stephanie aspires to be: a sophisticated, sleek and sexy fashion PR executive, with a writer-husband, who she massively outperforms.

After their children insist on a playdate at Emily’s house, Stephanie is introduced to a world where the “fucked up female habit” of apologising is banned, consisting of daytime drinking, sexual fluidity, female domination and nude paintings. But as their tenuous friendship begins to blossom over cocktails and shared confidences, Kendrick illustrates how her uptight, reserved character isn’t really as polished up as audiences are first led to believe.

Things really start to get puzzling when Emily asks Stephanie for a simple favour: to pick up her son from school, leaving one overarching question to burn to the surface - what happened to Emily? This is left up to Stephanie to figure out, assisted with a passive aggressive use of her blog and loaded on Emily’s radical enlightenment. Audiences watch as Kendrick’s character transforms from an irritating do-gooder with an ‘oopsie jar’ to the unexpected badass Emily created in her, always being two steps ahead of the game (ironically at Emily’s expense). One of the film’s most successful elements has to be its ability to keep audiences on their feet throughout, whilst trying to figure out who these two women really are, with the helpful scattering of flashbacks.

Despite playing bitter opposites, Kendrick and Lively work brilliantly as a duo; their naturally dry, deadpan styles of humour bounce off of each other hilariously. Their chemistry is undeniable and plays to the advantage of the film, creating some seemingly effortless scenes (as well as one of 2018’s best on-screen kisses).

Amber Dawson

The Favourite

Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos

Power, sex and music: three essentials to life, no matter what the era. In The Favourite, it’s more of a lute-based sound rather than any crashing guitar chords, but the backstabbing and political manoeuvring could be translated to any period.

The film is very loosely based around the relationship between Queen Anne (1665-1714; played by Olivia Colman) and two other charismatic, real-life, characters in Sarah Churchill, Lady Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail Hill (Emma Stone). Having known Sarah since childhood, Anne's attention becomes split upon the arrival of Abigail, a relation to Sarah. Sarah allows her scheming, Machiavellian, relation to become part of the Queen’s household, exposing a weakness within her cold, clinical analysis of situations that ultimately led to her expulsion from a place of privilege and favour.

The tale revolves around the Queen’s residence, where power struggles of all types are as plentiful as the food and wine on the tables of the rich. England is at war - no surprise there - whilst a monarch of declining health is being challenged to decide on whether to crush the enemy or seek their surrender.

Whether or not there is any fact in this portrayal of HRH sharing a bed with either of them is unknown, but the undocumented spaces in history are exploited to add intrigue into the plotline, and the monarch faces with having to choose between the sexual favours of Abigail and Sarah.

The language is at times bawdy and raw, whilst tenderness provides a counterpoint to the brutality of receiving six lashes from a birch as a result of trying to help someone.

The sets are beautifully lit, especially within the not-so-secret corridors between bedrooms. For once, the male characters are portrayed as spending more time being dressed up than the women.

When each actor is on screen, their magnetism is compelling for different reasons. Colman displays the demeanour of a leader who would rather have something to eat than carry out the crown duties as she struggles to walk, sometimes talk, or even listen to musicians. Weiss is compelling in the clinical manner with which she addresses each issue, and then slowly accepts that she has been outwitted. As for Stone, the ‘celebration’ of her wedding night as she coldly plotted her future will no doubt be a talking point for many couples.

This triangle of power does allude to comparisons with Dangerous Liaisons with the fantastic costumes and the, at times, vicious interplay amongst the characters. But just as this film, which has taken 14 years to come to the screen, reaches its climax, the last couple of reels stall as though the writers were unsure how to finish it.

There is no doubt that the script provides a template for the three actresses that could easily result in them receiving Oscars for their performances.

Ged Camera