Do Yourself A SIMPLE FAVOR and Go See This Movie

c7055a014a1b9d5cdc024b27d0a7ee97Hello, Mothers, and other fans! Thanks for tuning in. I’m sure everyone is way over the Gone Girlphenomenon* that pivoted into the Girl on the Trainphenomenon** that made everyone resent anything with “Girl” in the title*** (not to be confused with the soon-to-be-rebooted Girl with the Dragon Tattooseries, which is partially responsible for all this mess). So, if you saw a trailer forA Simple Favor, you surely had flashbacks to that brand of twisty, female-driven psychological thrillers and rolled your eyes. You probably extra rolled your eyes at seeing America’s a cappella sweetheart Anna Kendrick starring as the protagonist who, in this case, tries to solve the disappearance of her best friend Emily (played by Blake Lively—and I know you rolled your eyes at her unless you’re a huge Gossip Girlfan like I am).

Stephanie (Kendrick) is a dedicated mom with a vlog that she posts on regularly with nifty tips for cooking and crafts. It’s a deeply cheesy premise, which draws eye rolls from the other moms at school (including ever-present Andrew Rannells). But Stephanie’s life changes when her son wants to hang out with his friend Nicky after school. Nicky’s mother Emily emerges onscreen in a slow-mo walk through the rain dressed in a chic suit ensemble with heels. She only lets the boys come over if Stephanie agrees to a martini. And it’s all downhill from there.

The seeming friendship that buds between Emily and Stephanie is akin to Serena van der Woodsen hazing some nobody from Yonkers. But at least Emily’s “European” style martinis look like perfection. Frozen gin in a frozen martini glass with a vermouth rinse. Garnished with a nice lemon peel chunk cut deftly by Emily with a meat knife while she slowly seduces Stephanie into confessing her darkest secrets.

 

02-a-simple-favor.w1200.h630We soon meet Emily’s smoldering, failed-writer husband Sean (Henry Golding—you know, from Crazy Rich Asians). He and Stephanie share some intellectual conversation before he goes back to kissing his wife, while Stephanie looks on jealously. “Friendship” established, Emily calls Stephanie requesting “a simple favor” to pick up her son from school. And then no one hears from her for five days.

Stephanie goes on a comical yet endearing investigation into Emily’s disappearance. Veronica Marsshe is not, but Emily has inadvertently taught her enough to give her a bit of a backbone. And the more clues she uncovers, the more confidence she gains.

The film relies on you expecting those Gone Girl-like twists. But it plays them up for humor or as motivation for Stephanie’s growth. And then, in the last 30 minutes they continue to defy expectations with twist on twist on twist (some are obvious, others less so) until it reaches it’s spellbinding finale.

The soundtrack, too, really adds to the energy of the film. The French bops that continue to pop up whether in homage to Emily or to Stephanie’s growth into a stronger, smarter character will have you dancing in your seat.


The film’s ability to make the macabre humorous without being overdone is enjoyable. You’ll laugh at unexpected moments and still feel the thrill of tension when it’s also called for. This might be director Paul Feig’s most subtle comedy. Considering how much I dislike his previous films, I’m amazed how engaged I was. And considering how little regard I have for Anna Kendrick and her frequently bland acting (Up in the Airbeing somehow the antithesis to her career to date), I left the film appreciating the subtlety she brought to the film. Blake Lively, however, never failed to entertain me. But then, she got the role that lets her chew up the scenery while mixing cocktails and looking fabulous.
I understand anyone’s reservations against the film—especially going into Oscar season. But A Simple Favoris a thrillingly good time, and a great escape from the drudgery of everyday life.

90

 

*Even though both the book and the film are impeccable.

**A deeply lackluster brand (sorry, Emily Blunt).

***I see you, Ruth Ware, trying to upgrade the branding with The Woman in Cabin 10.

 

Bonus Pairing: I’ll obviously be drinking Aviation Gin Martinis for the rest of the weekend.

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That Awkward Moment When I (Sorta) Defend THAT AWKWARD MOMENT

hr_That_Awkward_Moment_4That awkward moment when you really like a bad movie. There are many reasons you do: you like the actors, you like the setting, you like the fresh(ish) take on a tired genre, you like the theme which somehow resonates with you on that day in that moment. There are plenty of reasons to like a bad movie. But if you really enjoyed the film (dare I say, connected with the film), how bad can it actually be?
That awkward moment when the film feels horribly miscast. The biggest flaw of the film is the lead actors’ ages. Zac Efron, Miles Teller, and Michael B. Jordan are playing characters in their vague mid-20s (certainly 2-3 years out of college); yet the last we saw of them, Teller was graduating from high school (The Spectacular Now); Jordan was a tragic 22-year-old (Fruitvale Station); and in the trailers before the film we saw Efron portraying a frat boy (Neighbors). Their youthful looks make them appear far too young to be in their mid-20s with some form of a career. But are they? (Maybe they’re just trying to break out of the mold they’ve been cast in.)
That-Awkward-Moment-Motion-Poster-Zac-EfronThat awkward moment when you realize all three leads are actually 26-years-old—more or less the accurate age to be playing these characters. Efron, whom we’ve seen mature over the years, is the most instantaneously believable in his role as Jason (a decade-younger Barney Stinson). While verbally sparring with Efron, Teller has enough buddy chemistry to make us buy him as being Jason’s best friend Daniel. But it’s overly-serious Mikey who, despite Jordan’s adult-seeming facial hair, feels like the odd man out. He’s a married guy facing divorce while sporting the youthful looks of a college student. His story is the least believable, and pushes him onto the fringes throughout the film.
That awkward moment when Mikey looks down on his best friends and their frivolous lifestyle. They enjoy going out each night, bedding different chicks, building up a “roster” of booty calls, yet dreading the moment when a girl gets too attached and says, “So.” So, where is this going? So, what are we? It’s a hum-drum dilemma, but they are in their mid-twenties; and it’s not their fault that Mikey got married when he was, what? 21? And how bad of a husband was he if he got Jessica Lucas to cheat on him? I don’t believe Lucas has ever played a character with a single mean bone in her body (maybe this was her attempt at breaking out of the mold).
That awkward moment when writer/director Tom Gormican seems to recognize that Mikey doesn’t quite fit in, and pulls the focus on the other two boys. Unfortunately, he has them bond over a trivial pact that haunts nearly every romantic comedy. The three amigos decide to celebrate Mikey’s impending divorce by not getting girlfriends. That’s something that Jason and Daniel have been consciously doing for years, but now that they they’ve clinked their coffee cups to it, it’s an official bro pact. And so the characters fall into the classic dilemmas we expect from a rom-com: they fall in love—Jason with the bewitching Imogen Poots (whose Ellie is far more endearing than her Allie in Greetings from Tim Buckley—but then again, Efron is a far more endearing romantic counterpart than Penn Badgley was) and Daniel with the guys’ good friend (and Robin-like wingman, I would like to add) Chelsea, played by Mackenzie Davis (whose helpful role involves telling a hot chick that she likes her shoes and then doing her version of “Have you met _____?”). Mikey is still dealing with his marital issues and doesn’t have time for the frivolous sexual relationships his buddies engage in.
maxresdefaultThat awkward moment when you like a film despite its flaws. The story may not be groundbreaking, yet it still feels fresh. I’ve been clamoring for a rom-com from the male point-of-view. And I’m not referring to bro-coms where it’s about two dudes bonding (although this film has that). This is a film about immature guys maturing in their romantic endeavors, not an easy task for “the selfish generation” as Jason aptly refers to us. It’s like getting the reverse point-of-view that we’ve seen from every other romantic comedy (about time, I tell ya!). Sure, it still falls into the formulaic pratfalls of its forebears; but what exactly did you expect when you sat down to watch it?
That awkward moment when you see yourself in the characters. These guys may be jerks who only want to hook up, but we all have those phases (unless you’re a Mikey and only accustomed or comfortable with the committed lifestyle). And maybe it’s because I’m currently in such a phase that I felt connected to Jason and Daniel’s dilemmas. It can (and does) seem so simple in the context of the film, but in real life, the lines are far blurrier, and it feels like Gormican is grasping at that. He makes these characters balance the fine line between smarmy and charming, and that’s where the casting comes in handy. For Efron and Teller are just the kind of buddies that you want to see succeed but understand when they fail. (Sure, Jordan does a good job; but I really didn’t care for him and his crumbling marriage—mostly because Gormican throws us into the divorce without establishing a resemblance of a relationship between them.)
That awkward moment when you think the movie’s theme may be a condemnation towards couples. Amidst learning to embrace being in a relationship, Jason must deal with the relationship he already has with his best friends. His (and Daniel’s) fear is that being in a relationship will make his friendship suffer. And, to some extent, that’s a correct expectation. Most people vanish into their newly founded relationships. But it is possible to balance the two (and the film hints at that). When everything inevitably goes to the toilet, Jason realizes that it’s because he devalued his relationship with his best friends. It’s the opposite effect of what happens when people do go into relationships, and it’s an interesting perspective to present (that is sadly buried in a mediocre film).
That Awkward Moment is not a good film (it was released in January). But That Awkward Moment was a very enjoyable film to watch. It addressed stories that I look for in a film, and I never once fell asleep (CONFESSION: I took 10-minute naps during American Hustle and Twelve Years a Slave). Plus, it exploits Efron’s body in a way that you hope and expect it to. If this film could be the start of something new (or at least different) in the romantic comedy genre, then it is wholly worth the price of admission (at least at matinee pricing).

Side note: As a New Yorker (can I say that yet?), I’ve been fully submersed in the Grammercy Park myth that so many of us strive for; and I fully enjoyed how the film approached it.

HOW I LIVE NOW Is a Refreshingly Gritty WWIII Pic

Saoirse Ronan seems to be trying very hard to carve her own little niche in cinema. From Hanna to The Host to Byzantium, Ronan has been building a career as a teenage action star in dystopic/post-apocalyptic worlds. And her latest film, How I Live Now, is just another entry on that resume.
saoirse-ronan-stars-in-first-trailer-and-poster-for-how-i-live-now-142540-a-1376393033-470-75Britain is on the brink of World War Three, and American Daisy (Ronan) is forced to spend the summer at her aunt’s country home. The house is full of her rambunctious cousins—Isaac (Tom Holland), Piper (Harley Bird), and Eddie (George MacKay)—but her Aunt Penn (Anna Chancellor) has business to deal with and leaves the children alone during this turbulent time. Daisy tries to keep to herself but Isaac is keen on including her, and Eddie is so devastatingly handsome and mysterious that Daisy just can’t help herself (Isaac is also quick to mention that Eddie is adopted and thus not a blood relative, so don’t get too excited about the incestuous of it all).
When WWIII does break out, the kids take to their barn in the countryside for fear of the warring militias. A man from the American consulate offers Daisy a ticket to escape the warring nation, but after having sex with Eddie she cannot bear to part from. Tribulations soon plague them as they are separated and forced into lives of servitude and fear.
For those not jaded by the excessive YA dystopia trend, How I Live Now (based on Meg Rosoff’s 2004 novel) is much darker and adult feeling—even earning a controversial R rating. While Ronan can’t avoid repeating her performances from similar pictures, she does bring some nuance to Daisy, and her passion for Eddie is endearing instead of clichéd. This is a grittier film that feels more like The Road than World War Z, and that, more than anything, helps this film stand out in a sea of similar films.