I recently had the wonderful opportunity to attend the UK premiere of Paul Feig’s latest film, A Simple Favour, at the BFI Southbank, complete with red carpet experience and an introductory Q&A with Feig and stars Blake Lively (Gossip Girl) and Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect).
During a pre-film Q&A with the film’s team, Feig, known for being a forerunner of funny films about women, starring women, detailed his desire to make A Simple Favour to be fun “in sort of a Hitchcockian way, were you can laugh and be on the edge of your seat, trying to guess what’s going on”.
The concept of the female representation was a pivotal part of the discussion, as the host questioned the three about their feelings towards the complicated nature of the main characters.
Kendrick remarked on the complex morality of her character, Stephanie Smothers: “I really like the fact that this was kind of a challenge. Y’know, she’s all of these things that women aren’t supposed to be.” This is certainly a truth. To speak reductively, Stephanie is not supposed to be likeable, but Kendrick delivers a performance that allows us to see things from her perspective, and understand why she’s making the decisions that she does, the cracks in her facade showing ever so slightly underneath the guise of the well-put-together mommy-vlogger throughout the progression of the film.
Likewise, Lively joked about what it means to be the “mystery” of the film: “what’s nice about [being] the mystery is that she only works three weeks” (“This bitch! I swear to god!” Kendrick banters with a chuckle). She goes on to talk about the layers of her character, Emily Nelson, and how she’s “delicious” and how it was enjoyable to “let all the facades down and just work on “disappointing my mom,” She teases. “Everything I tried not to be growing up, I got to be in this film.”
The humour continues throughout the Q&A, with Kendrick and Lively remarking sarcastically that they “like one dimensional female characters” because it’s “so much easier just to be objectified.” Kendrick asks in a dulcet tone, “If Paul could write something so boring for us, so we can turn our brains off, that’d be great.” Feig replies with a laugh, “I’m working on it! I’m working on it!”
Joking aside, it was evident in their big smiles, light banter and playful demeanour that Kendrick and Lively have embraced the opportunity to play characters with such depth to them. These completely layered, messed up, women mean something to these actresses, bringing them together and allowing them to stretch their creative abilities. A Simple Favour brings about the idea that women are not to be put in simple categories; the mom isn’t just the source of moral righteousness yet has dark secrets and passions that drive her to make further complicated decisions; the mysterious femme fatale isn’t just a sex-driven manipulator, but a complex villain with human flaws and human pain that audiences can, in fact, empathise with.
A Simple Favour isn’t marketed as a feminist masterpiece, it isn’t sold to be regarded as ‘revolutionary’ piece of film for female representation; yet, it does just that by letting women be complicated, by letting women be sinister and morally corrupt and just all around dark. In A Simple Favour, women are no longer reduced to simply being the tropes of moral righteousness that they, particularly mother characters, have been in the past. And that is why A Simple Favour deserves consideration as a triumph for feminist films.