If “Desperate Housewives” and “Single White Female” became close friends with a light flirtation who later betrayed each other in a labyrinthine scheme of secret identities and questionable decisions and made a baby somewhere in the process, that baby would be the deranged comedy-thriller “A Simple Favor.”
The latest from “Bridesmaids” director Paul Feig ― based on Darcey Bell’s 2017 novel of the same name ― is about friendship and motherhood and incest and homicide and other dirty secrets that only come out after one too many martinis. The plot is full of twists and this article is full of spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the movie, I strongly suggest you stop reading now.
The movie opens with suburban super-mommy Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick) divulging to the moms who follow her popular vlog that her best friend, Emily, has been missing for five days.
Then we rewind to meet Emily Nelson (Blake Lively), who has Serena van der Woodsen’s good looks, Willy Wonka’s flawless taste in suits and Lucille Bluth’s constant hankering for a stiff drink: The kind of bitch who could make Amy Dunne squirm. Emily and Stephanie ― the cool mom and the goody-goody ― forge an unlikely friendship through getting sloshed and exchanging secrets during their sons’ playdates.
Initially, Stephanie doesn’t think anything of it when Emily asks for a simple favor ― to pick up her son from school. But when Emily never turns up to collect the kid, Stephanie realizes how little she knew about her supposed bestie.
Things take a dark turn ― or five ― as Stephanie realizes the obsessive energy she devotes to parenting also comes in handy for solving mysteries. Complicating matters is the fact that she’s also falling for her dead homegirl’s husband (Henry Golding looking fine as hell) and getting comfortable filling the Emily-shaped hole in his family’s life.
Bonkers surprises ensue as three equally unreliable narrators do their best to unravel the truth behind Emily’s disappearance. And yet plenty more unnerving details went undiscussed. Until now. These are the batshit crazy moments in “A Simple Favor” you might not have noticed.
Stephanie made that bunk friendship bracelet for Emily.
The one thing we know about Stephanie is she’s a type-A matriarch, the Queen Bee of the PTA. And yet when she gives Emily one of her special handmade friendship bracelets, it’s literally just beads on a string. Don’t you know about lanyards, Stephanie? She even devoted an entire vlog episode to friendship bracelet-making. What were the steps? Put the beads on and ... ??? Even Emily, the worst best friend of all time, deserves better.
Stephanie’s “Mambo No. 5” singalong.
Ever the dutiful carpool mom, Stephanie keeps her son and his friend cheery in the backseat by bursting into song with the classic ’90s hit “Mambo No. 5.” The two young boys ― surely born after 2010 ― join right in without skipping a beat. How do these two elementary schoolers know all the words to Lou Bega?
Stephanie and her half brother seem to keep having sex after that first time at the funeral.
In one of the film’s first jaw-dropping moments, Stephanie confesses to Emily that she had sex with her half brother after their father’s funeral when she was 16. She was mad with grief, she explains, and her brother so strongly resembled the man she missed so much. Emily henceforth dubs her a “brother fucker.”
Getting it on with a sibling just one time is a big no-no in itself, but later in the film, Stephanie’s then-husband probes her about whether her son is really his child. Stephanie’s sputtering response suggests that she’s shacked up with big bro on more than one occasion. If Emily and Stephanie are in their early 30s, and their kids are around 7 years old, that means she’d been hooking up with brother Chris for around seven years! The vast difference between a one-night mistake and continuous brotherly love is hardly acknowledged. The Smothers siblings make the “Cruel Intentions” siblings seem puritanical in comparison.
Stephanie’s son — if he is her brother’s kid — seems chill.
So let’s say that Stephanie’s husband was right and little Miles is indeed two parts Smothers. You’d think having half siblings as parents would lead him to have a third arm ― or at least some emotional issues. Thankfully, Miles seems to be doing A-OK, especially for someone whose father and uncle-father died in a traumatic joint car crash when he was a kid!
Emily isn’t just a twin, but a triplet.
Did you see it coming that Emily was in fact ― gasp! ― a twin? Me neither. But even more shocking (and wonderfully unnecessary) was the later re-revelation that Emily in fact wasn’t just a twin but ― double gasp! ― a triplet! That’s right, Hope and Faith McLanden had a third twin named Charity, but she died in the womb. Why include this additional twist in a plot already so tangled my hair looks tidy in comparison?
Stephanie gets stuck in one of Emily’s dresses.
Anna Kendrick is 5′2″. Blake Lively is 5′10″. You really think one of Emily’s maxi dresses is going to fit little Stephanie like that?
Emily risks ruining her entire scheme to come home and reorganize her closet.
It’s a hair-raising moment when Stephanie comes back to chez Nelson to find the closet she’d just recently spent hours cleaning out was again filled with Emily’s goods. But would Emily ― who seems very perturbed when her scheme to fake her own death begins to fray ― really have risked it all to spend hours, in her own home, putting all of her accessories and high heels back into their special cubbies?
This racist and totally unrelated video was circulated as promotional material.
Why does this promo video feature a fully dressed Blake Lively drinking a martini while resting her feet on the body of an unclothed black man like he is furniture? I don’t understand why anyone thought this was a good idea, especially given Lively’s notorious misstep publishing an “Allure of Antebellum” fashion spread on her now-defunct lifestyle website Preserve. Also, this whole scenario is in no way related to the plot, at all! What purpose does this serve?
Faith was able to find Hope (AKA Emily) on Facebook with a fake name and no pictures.
When Emily tells Stephanie her evil twin finally tracked her down, she rolls her eyes while blaming Facebook for blowing her cover. Yet Emily would certainly never post a picture of herself online and uses a fake name. And it seems somewhat unlikely that Faith, who is addicted to heroin, would be an especially savvy social media sleuth.
Critics apparently compared a painter to photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.
When Stephanie speaks to the edgy artist, Diana (a tatted-up Linda Cardellini), whom Emily posed for back in the day, she describes how critics wrote her off as being a “knockoff dyke Mapplethorpe” for being so consumed with the body of her then-red-headed muse. Would an art critic really compare an artist known for black-and-white photography to a painter who works in color simply because both feature genitals, one of art history’s most beloved subjects? I think not.
Sean’s editor somehow let him name his memoir The Oopsy Jar.
It just lacks gravitas, you know?
Emily was actually trying to help her husband and best friend, before Stephanie stuck her nose into her BFF’s beeswax.
Emily is, by most accounts, a heinous psychopath whose depravity knows no bounds. And yet, when you think about it, she really might have been trying to do good when she faked her own death. (Except for the whole drowning her twin sister thing, but, whatever.) By pretending to drown in a Michigan lake, Emily was promising her husband and son financial security and providing a zaddy with abs of steel for her lonely best friend to cuddle with at night. Everyone could have lived happily ever after if Stephanie didn’t start poking around in Emily’s past. But I guess killing your twin is wrong. And your dad. I almost forgot she also killed her dad.
“A Simple Favor” is out now.
CORRECTION: An earlier edition of this article referred to Miles, Stephanie’s son, as Nicky.