Puzzle Doctor At The Movies – A Simple Favo(u)r

Stephanie Smothers and Emily Nelson could not be more different. While they have young sons who are friends at school, Stephanie is a single mother, the first to volunteer for everything and runs a vlog where she gives advice to other mothers out there on everything from recipes to getting the kids to school on time. Emily is married, works for a fashion company and starts drinking early in the afternoon. And, as happens in certain sorts of films, they rapidly become best friends.

And then Emily asks Stephanie a favour – to pick her son up from school as she will be working late. And then Emily promptly vanishes… (and in something resembling a twist, her husband is on another continent at the time). Stephanie spearheads a search for her friend and… well, things escalate. As they do…

I recently got one of those Unlimited cinema cards so for the price of three films every two months, I can see as many films as I like. And as Mrs Puzzle Doctor is away today, I thought I’d pop along to see something. Admittedly, pickings were slim, but Anna Kendrick and twisty thriller was enough to convince me to give this a try.

And let’s get this straight, I did enjoy the film a lot. The performances – well, Anna Kendrick plays Stephanie basically like every other Anna Kendrick rom-com performance that I’ve seen, which to be fair, isn’t a problem – she’s great at that sort of role. Blake Lively, who I’ve not encountered before, is outstanding as Emily, a real scene-stealing performance, and the chemistry between the pair is very impressive. They manage to sell the unlikely friendship between the pair very well. I mentioned rom-com just then, because that is sort of the tone of the opening section.

And that’s where the film’s problem lies.

It can’t decide if it wants to be a jokey rom-com, a twisty dark thriller, a black comedy, sometimes oscillating violently from scene to scene and there are parts, especially towards the end, where the tonal shifts are quite sudden and at least one character’s motivation seems to be wired to a random number generator. And how exactly did the person who ultimately saves the day show up at that point given that they had just… well, spoilers. Oh, and that poster I’ve used for the image… that’s a bit odd as well.

At no point does it devolve into jump scares and stalking loonies, so plus points for that, and there are some effective scenes, including possible the scariest use of a wardrobe you will ever see.

The finale did seem to smack of rewrites, as the characters’ actions in the preceding sequences seem to have been almost forgotten about, but at the end of the day, if you see this passing you TV schedule in the future, you could do a lot worse.

ADDENDUM: Just realised that I can’t leave this review without mentioning one aspect of the plot. I suppose it would be considered a twist were it not the fact that anyone in their right mind would only not assume that it was going to/did happen on the grounds that surely the writer was more imaginative than that. I can’t attest for how it is presented in the novel but here, it’s just so obviously coming that it should have been dealt with much earlier and then moved on. It’s almost as if the director thought it was a startling idea due to never having read a thriller/mystery in his life before…


  1. I liked it much more than you, PD. I saw it as black comedy throughout, a cross between Hitchcock at his lightest and Claude Chabrol. And I loved the French pop score!


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