A Simple Favor ★★★

THE LADY VANISHES

'A Simple Favor' is a weird film, tonally speaking. It’s not the first foray into more bloody-minded fare for comedy-inclined director Paul Feig ('Bridesmaids' [2011]; 'Spy' [2015]; 'Ghostbusters' [2016]). Before breaking out as one of the 2010s’ few mainstream comedy filmmakers with name recognition, Feig was a television director for series ranging from his own creation 'Freaks and Geeks' (1999-2000) to the U.S. version of 'The Office' (2005-13). Most salient to his newest film, however, are his stints helming the Showtime series 'Weeds' (2005-12) and 'Nurse Jackie' (2009-15), both of which could be described as character studies with dark-comedy flavoring, built on the framework of well-worn genres (the narco thriller and the hospital drama, respectively).

Feig’s latest feature isn’t *exactly* comparable to his work on those acclaimed shows. 'A Simple Favor' is at its most successful when it’s foremost a rat-a-tat dark comedy and only secondarily a character piece or twisty noir. Still, the point stands that the director has a proven facility for maintaining a tricky, gestalt tone. On a more high-concept level, Feig has previously used varying tactics to blend comedy with flashier, bigger-budget stripes of entertainments. 'Spy' approaches its cloak-and-dagger elements playfully but earnestly – it’s a solid 007-style actioner that just happens to also be a gut-busting satire – while 'Ghostbusters' is essentially a big-hearted gal-pal comedy that takes place in a cartoonish sci-fi universe.

'A Simple Favor' represents yet another approach, one that is enticing in concept but decidedly strange in the execution. At the plot level, the film is a nasty, corkscrewing domestic noir, the sort replete with fakeouts, frame-ups, and double-crosses. Sketched out on paper in its entirety, the story looks an awful lot like one of Alfred Hitchcock’s seedier “criminal mischief” films ('Shadow of a Doubt' [1943]; 'Strangers on a Train' [1951]; 'Dial M for Murder' [1954]; 'Marnie' [1964]). There’s also more than a dollop of trashy, early 1990s thrillers like 'The Hand That Rocks the Cradle' (1992) and 'Single White Female' (1992)...

Read on at the Lens:

www.cinemastlouis.org/lens/review-simple-favor