In “But How Gay Is It?”, we seek to answer the biggest questions you have about a new movie release in theaters now — including, most crucially, the titular question. Does the movie have any queer characters? Are there stories involving same-sex lovers? Which gay icons star in the film? We’re bringing you all that and more.
What is A Simple Favor? Director Paul Feig, known best for his raunchy comedies starring women — Bridesmaids, Spy, The Heat, Ghostbusters — has done something quite different with A Simple Favor. From a script by American Horror Story episodic writer Jessica Sharzer, who adapted Darcey Bell’s 2017 novel of the same name, A Simple Favor tells an appropriately simple story: A mom goes missing. Of course, nothing’s that simple: The mom, Emily Nelson, turns out to be far more duplicitous than she initially seemed.
Her newly made best friend, Stephanie Smothers, is a Connecticut mommy vlogger who grows fascinated with both Emily and her husband Sean. She works to figure out what happened to her best friend — and learns a lot about the friend she trusted along the way. It’s not quite a comedy, not quite a drama, definitely a thriller; Feig’s latest is a genre mashup that delights and unsettles in almost equal measure.
Who’s in it? Anna Kendrick stars as Stephanie, bringing every bit of the chirpy charm Kendrick is well-known for. Blake Lively plays Emily, wearing some of the most spectacular fashions I can remember seeing in a contemporary movie. (If it weren’t for the astonishing garments in Black Panther, this movie would be my frontrunner for this year’s Best Costume Design Oscar.)
Crazy Rich Asians star Henry Golding plays Lively’s husband, Sean. Andrew Rannells shows up as a gay dad who bonds with the other moms — played by Kelly McCormack and Aparna Nancherla — at Stephanie and Emily’s kids’ school. And Rupert Friend, Linda Cardellini, and Jean Smart all get great cameo spots, though to tell you too much about any of them would ruin the fun.
Why should I see it? Two words: Blake Lively. I have consistently been shocked by Lively post-Gossip Girl, most notably in The Shallows, which is basically a one-woman show shark movie that she carries with aplomb. But Lively has never been better than she is here. She’s to A Simple Favor what Rose Byrne is to Feig’s Spy: an actress often cast as a protagonist who shows every bit of layer and range she has to offer when made the villain.
Lively is a campy delight in every scene she’s in for the first third of the movie, chewing up every scene and savoring the taste. After that, she keeps a lot of the camp value, but balances it with some moments of gravitas and a genuinely chilling late-game change in behavior. It’s a masterful performance, as controlled as A Simple Favor often is not, and if movies like this were taken seriously by awards bodies, she’d be in the conversation for Best Supporting Actress.
I also really loved the movie generally, but I have a feeling it will be divisive. A friend compared it to Killing Eve, which is a smart pairing. It’s absurd and funny, but still effective.
But how gay is it? Emily is bisexual, admitting to a threesome with her husband’s female TA in one of her first chats with Stephanie. We get plenty more shades of her flexible sexuality in other scenes, too, and another character shows a queer bent as well — though to go too far into them would be getting into spoilers. What’s refreshing, though, is that the character’s bisexuality isn’t made into a nefarious detail about her. Scandalous, sure; Stephanie is shocked when she first hears. But what makes Emily shady is everything but her sexuality. It’s a play on the harmful Depraved Bisexual trope that, in my opinion, works as a subversion.
I’ve heard some weird things about the book plot. Is this as odd as the source material? Having not read the book, I can’t quite speak to that. But I can tell you that A Simple Favor is fucking weird. It’s actually kind of bizarre to me that this is a major motion picture being released by a big studio. One major detail about Stephanie’s past would be alienating for a lot of audiences, while the film’s finale is a wild progression of increasingly insane gambits. It’s a pretty batshit film! It totally worked for me, but I wonder how it’ll play for a wider audience.
You raved about Lively, but what about Kendrick? She’s good! She matches the tone of the movie, while remaining unmistakably Kendrick. That said, if I can be honest, I think my patience with Kendrick’s signature performance is running a little thin. I enjoyed her Oscar-nominated turn in Up in the Air a lot, and I’ve got a soft spot for Camp, but she’s kinda been turning in the same performance for the last decade. Pitch Perfect seemed to iron out a lot of the quirks that made Kendrick special as an actress — she still gets at some interesting layers here, but all within the framework of what you’ve seen before. She’s not revolutionary in the way Lively is.
That said, there is one scene at the end of the movie that relies entirely on Kendrick’s line deliveries to make funny, and she absolutely kills it. I’ll be quoting one particular line for years.
Does Golding take his shirt off in this movie? Blessings be, he does.
A Simple Favor is in theaters now.