A Simple Favor

by Alvin G. Burstein

The film’s opening credits are backed with a shifting array of images and pop songs, a neat foretaste of the complicated tale to follow. The story opens on an ongoing charmingly amateurish vlog (video-log). Stephanie Smothers is regaling her audience of mothers with a mélange of homemaking advice. We quickly learn that the vlog is designed, not only to help her viewers, but to enable her to keep her and her child afloat financially after the death of her husband in an auto accident.

As we follow Stephanie picking up her child at school, we come to see her as a Type A fixit problem-solver and perennial volunteer. At the school, she encounters Emily Nelson, the mother of a classmate of Stephanie’s son. Blonde Emily, in a knock-out white vested pants suit, golden pocket watch chain, and spike heels is a striking contrast to the slightly frumpy brunette Stephanie, but they strike up a friendship.

A pattern ensues of after school visits to Emily’s palatial home, where the children play, and the women drink martinis mixed by the hostess. Stephanie is swept into an idolizing and sexually tinged relationship with her new friend.

One day, she gets an urgent call. Emily must leave town to deal with an emergency. Her husband has gone to visit his dying mother. Can Stephanie pick Emily’s son up at school and child-sit him until his mother gets back? A simple favor.

But Emily does not come back that night. Or the next nights. When Stephanie, panicked, manages to contact the husband, he returns, but has no knowledge of where or why his wife might be. They call the police.

The unfolding mystery has a quick-silver quality. Just as a solution appears, it skitters off in a new, surprising direction. I will refrain from spoiling the pleasure of experiencing those twists and turns, and content myself with comments on the film’s style and approach. When Emily is making the first martini, after shaking the gin and vermouth (just a touch), she pours the drink into long stemmed crystal glasses and twists a bit of lemon rind over them. We see the mist of zest evanesce. That image captures the lightness, delicacy, of this movie. The film cocks an eye at the contrast between high and low culture. It smiles at sisterhood and motherhood. It verges on slapstick humor, paradoxically heightening the fun by artfully scant allusions to human misery.

After the tale twists and turns its way to its climax, the audience is presented with an epigraph outlining what has become of those whose lives we have been following. It is an apt, updated version of the Looney Tunes’ “That’s All Folks.”

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