The entire time I read Darcey Bell’s page-turner of a noir novel A Simple Favor, all I could think was “this is VERY Gone Girl.” And that’s not a bad thing. Were some of the plotlines a bit predictable? Yes. But the French noir tone of the book, the rotating narrators and the big twists every 50 pages or so kept me on my toes.
A Simple Favor tells the story of a widowed mother, Stephanie who meets a beautiful bombshell of a working mother named Emily. Their sons are friends at school, and they spend time together while the boys have playdates. Shortly after their friendship blossoms, Emily goes missing. Her husband Sean is the initial suspect, but has an alibi. So Stephanie spends the following weeks searching for Emily, blogging about her disappearance and requesting help from other mothers, caring for Emily’s son and eventually falling in love with Emily’s husband. She moves in on Emily’s life.
But then the boys start telling Stephanie they see Emily at school, and suddenly Stephanie is receiving phone calls from her. Emily is very much alive. Disappearing and faking her own death to earn life insurance money, Emily doesn’t really care about Stephanie or Sean. She’s a woman on a mission and she’ll do whatever it takes to accomplish that and find a better life for her and her son. Screw the husband. And screw Stephanie.
All this is pretty well-followed in the first half of the movie version. Blake Lively is the PERFECT Emily — so exquisitely beautiful, fashionable, direct, and confident. Anna Kendrick is the perfect Stephanie: kind of slutty and inherently dumb. But all the twists in the second half of the movie are a significant departure from the book. In the movie, more people are murdered. In the movie, a completely different person “wins” in the end.
The changes made for the movie deeply villainize Emily’s character, making her inherently evil, whereas in the book, Emily has a soft side. There are certain people in her life who she cares for deeply. Her character in the book is a lot more complicated, which makes her so deliciously fun to follow along. It’s easy to get down with her badassery and be swept away by her charm. The changes made for the movie also empower Stephanie’s character. She is emboldened and stands up for herself in the cat and mouse game she plays with Emily. In the book, she starts as the mouse and remains the mouse.
My guess is the changes made for the movie were meant to indulge the audience: the less complicated the characters, the easier it is to root for one over the other. And the movie does a good job of still being deliciously fun (even though the ending goes a little off the rails in its absurdity).
I prefer the book and its darkness, its open-ended finish, its complicated grey-area characters. But that said, watching Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively spar with each other is never a bad way to spend two hours.