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A Simple Favor

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

A Simple Favor

A Simple Favor hands us the gift of unpredictability. After dutifully trying to follow its early twists and turns, we realize there’s no point to that so we settle in to enjoy its craziness. What unfolds is quite like movies of the ‘40s and ‘50s when audiences didn’t ask comedies to make sense; they just asked them to make fun. That happens here.

The story opens with a tall woman in theatrical dress and behavior striding to pick up her little son at school. Her son Ho is the best buddy of Joshua and their mothers meet in what is one of the most unlikely friendships a scriptwriter could imagine. Emily (Blake Lively), the stately, gorgeous mother of little Ho introduces herself to Stephanie (Anna Kendrick), the relaxed mother of Joshua. Our initial instinct: these two mothers will detest each other.

Emily lives in the grand luxury of a modern mansion where she is married to English professor Sean (Henry Golding) who appears rarely and seems to love his wife but doesn’t understand her for a second. Neither do we. Emily cultivates a friendship with Stephanie that results in Stephanie becoming caretaker for Emily’s little boy along with her own son. And then – wonder of wonders – Emily disappears.

When that happens, Stephanie goes into high gear in search of her new best friend. The police are called, the husband stays on hand, and Stephanie spends the rest of the movie putting the pieces of the mystery together. None of those pieces makes any sense at all, but just forget that and enjoy watching Stephanie as she moves through the search that leads the audience into one silly situation after another. But wait. The whole ridiculous story has become fun – a little like eating a bowl of ice cream instead of your vegetables.

It’s possible, nearly probable, that you may sink happily into the zany situations created by the principals. Henry Golding is the most appealing of the actors. His Sean loves the mysterious and magnetic Emily without understanding anything about what makes her who she is. As Emily, Blake Lively creates an imposing woman always sophisticated in manner, motion, and dress. She does it well because we never stop trying to fathom the why of her behavior.

As Stephanie, Anna Kendrick does a fine job of changing her clothes, hair do, and behavior from ordinary school mom to the woman she would like to be as sophisticated friend to both Emilie and Sean. The nice thing about the trio is that no one is mean, just wacky. Anna Kendrick does a fine job of mastering several personalities for Stephanie as she moves among cultures and people in the search for her friend Emilie. Give a big hand to director Paul Feig who somehow sensed at the outset that he could make great fun of a gang of people who had nothing in common. He has given us the fun of the impossible.

Film Reviewer: Joan Ellis
Film Title : A Simple Favor
Running Time: 1:57
Word Count : 496
Rating : R
Date : September 30, 2018

 

Juliet, Naked

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Juliet, Naked

Juliet, Naked blooms slowly in the hands of four appealing performers who work with a thoroughly oddball plot. As they develop their characters, the movie turns into a genuinely pleasant trip.

The title is the name of a play by songwriter Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke) who disappeared twenty years ago at the height of his career. Duncan (Chris O’Dowd) has covered the wall of his study with pictures and articles about his songster hero. When a CD by the lost singer arrives in the mail, Duncan is enthralled while Annie (Rose Byrne), his housemate, thinks the song is ludicrous – enough so that she sits down and writes a negative review to Tucker Crowe who is intrigued and responds.

As we meet them early on, none of the three is especially happy. Tucker, in recovery from two decades of alcoholism, is being nice to a bevy of women and the children he fathered with them. Annie is disappointed in life with Duncan who seems interested primarily in himself and in his passion for Tucker Crowe’s music. Tucker is atoning for his past by being a genuinely kind father to Jackson (Azhy Robertson), a bright, interesting little boy who loves him. As this reformed fellow tries to figure out what to do with the rest of his life, we follow the gang with increasing interest.

Because it’s clear that these adults haven’t the faintest idea of how to design new lives, we settle in to enjoy them for who they are. Rose Byrne makes Annie a kind woman living with a man she doesn’t much care about. Ethan Hawke wraps Tucker in the confusion of looking up the women and children of his dalliances. Chris O’Dowd sets Duncan in a pleasant but boring cloud of confusion.

If all this sounds dull, it isn’t. Once we understand that these three have no idea of how to redesign their lives in middle-age, we begin to enjoy their search. There’s not a villain in the bunch and we begin to understand them and root for them in their dilemmas. The one who doesn’t need our help is Azhy Robertson’s Jackson who is thoroughly happy just to be living with the father who loves him while he peppers the movie with intriguing questions and observations.

Chris O’Dowd builds a nutty professor with an odd passion without alienating the audience while Rose Byrne paints a touching portrait of someone who thinks she should be happy but isn’t. In a nice footnote, if you wonder why Rose Byrne is always carrying something in front of her or wearing flowing clothes, the reason is, of course, that she is pregnant in real life.

Ethan Hawke creates a thoroughly appealing nutcase who did all kinds of bad things while he was drinking and now is open to his new life as long as nothing takes him away from his son Jackson. The movie is an appealing slice of the change of direction that is such a hallmark of middle-age.

Film Critic: Joan Ellis
Film Title: Juliet, Naked
Word Count: 498
Running Time: 1:45
Rating: R
Date: September 16, 2018