Cast: Sarah Baker, Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Jean Smart, Eric Johnson
Director: Paul Feig
Genre: Crime, Mystery
Running Time: 116 minutes
Synopsis: A Simple Favour, a stylish post-modern film noir directed by Paul Feig, centers around Stephanie (Anna Kendrick), a mommy blogger who seeks to uncover the truth behind her best friend Emily's (Blake Lively) sudden disappearance from their small town. Stephanie is joined by Emily's husband Sean (Henry Golding) in this thriller filled with twists and betrayals, secrets and revelations, love and loyalty, murder and revenge.
A Simple Favour
Release Date: September 13th, 2018
"Secrets are like margarine: easy to spread, bad for the heart."
Assume nothing about the two mothers at the center of this fresh and deliciously twisted stylish thriller. Surfaces may be bright and polished, but no one is what they seem. At the core of this story is an unlikely film noir protagonist"the sunny and practical suburban mommy vlogger, Stephanie (Anna Kendrick). Stephanie's perky search for domestic bliss, friendship and killer recipes accidentally leads her into a mad tangle of dirty secrets and fatal lies when she meets ultra-glamorous mom, Emily (Blake Lively).
When Stephanie is first approached by Emily to come over for a playdate, she is intrigued. Emily is mysterious and alluring with her super-posh lifestyle: a city job in high fashion, a sexy British author husband and an impeccably modern, showcase house. Stephanie is flattered when Emily seems to quickly latch onto her as a confidante and new best friend. She appears to be the ultimate insider, and Stephanie feels like she has cracked into a world of her most extravagant mommy dreams.
"I need a simple favor," Emily says one afternoon. Without hesitation, Stephanie eagerly agrees to take Emily's son, Nicky, home with her after school one day. However, simple becomes complicated when Emily disappears completely, leaving Stephanie with her son and not a single clue. Following her own "moms, do everything yourself" credo, Stephanie takes it upon herself, with the help of her social media followers, to find her missing friend. She has no idea just how convoluted this mystery will become as boundaries of friendship and loyalty are tested and lurid truths are unburied. Stephanie is about to enter an inky-black, nerve-wracking journey into deception, duplicity and transgressions, including her own.
A Simple Favor director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, Spy, "Freaks and Geeks"), making a departure from the blockbuster comedies he's known for, builds the film as a twisting suspense thriller, but also a tasty satire on our constant striving for the flawlessly-curated 21st century life. Producer Jessie Henderson, who also produced Paul Feig's Spy, says, "This movie really defies comparisons, which is what people are going to like about it. There are pieces you can isolate or compare to other things, but ultimately it really feels new and fresh with influences from many genres."
The lure of A Simple Favor for Paul Feig was that it seemed to have all the ingredients"a nail-biting plot, diabolical imagination, tongue-in-cheek humor, characters of never-ending psychological complications and a deceivingly serene suburban setting"to let him stretch the expected shape of the thriller form. "I really love playing with genres and I love twisting pre-set rules and movie tropes to have more fun with them," says Paul Feig. "When A Simple Favor came to me, it was like, 'bingo!' This is what I've been looking for. Thrillers have always been some of my favorite movies to watch, so I was excited to play with the construction"and Stephanie is one of my favorite characters that I've ever been able to bring to the screen."
Paul Feig latched onto Stephanie as a chance to turn the typical expectation of the tough, cynical thriller hero on its head. He says, "She's someone we all know"the mom whose whole life is all about being a people pleaser and always doing nice things for others"and who is taken advantage of because of that. What I most wanted was for you to root for her, even as she's having her eyes opened to the darkness all around her."
For Anna Kendrick, portraying Stephanie as she applies her sparkly attitude to the most sinister of human machinations was a one-of-a-kind balancing act that she relished. "This is a genre-bending story that has big comedy, a murder mystery, twists, turns and surprises. Stephanie is definitely one of the most optimistic characters I've ever played, but she also has a lot of blinders on"and those blinders get peeled off the hard way starting from the moment Emily disappears, which is part of the fun," Kendrick says.
Paul Feig notes that the balancing act of the film"the fun, but also the psychological and social frenzy"led him into new territory, which is exactly what he wanted. "The film is definitely funny, but it also takes you through a whole range of emotions and major twists and turns that I haven't explored before. And the opportunity to do that is all thanks to the amazing source material from Darcey Bell, the work of writer Jessica Sharzer, our incredible actors and also the talented crew who joined us to tell this story."
From A Giggle To A Scream: A Not-So-Simple Adaptation
Darcey Bell's 2017 debut novel "A Simple Favor" quickly drew notice as one of that year's most addictive reads, keeping readers up late frantically turning pages. Though critics compared it to Gillian Flynn's "Gone Girl" novel, it also stood out as something distinctive and of-the-moment. For within its twisty web of betrayal and revenge, also lay a cutting exploration of a mommy blogger navigating the overwhelming age of modern motherhood"complete with all its fierce protectiveness, social media competitiveness, loneliness, envy and endless search for getting it absolutely perfect.
With twists no one could see coming and the story being so cinematic, the film rights were sold before it was published. Soon after, screenwriter Jessica Sharzer (Nerve, Speak, Dirty Dancing) began tackling the adaptation. From the start, Sharzer wanted to upend the woman-in-peril storyline that has become a staple of entertainment. Instead, she toys with our familiarity with the structure, but also subverts it. "There have been so many of these twisting tales with unreliable narrators," Sharzer acknowledges, "but what I loved about Darcey's book is that it takes a different attitude. The book always has its tongue firmly planted in its cheek and that's what I most wanted to capture. I wanted the film to lean way into the genre, adding twist upon twist upon twist, but always doing it very consciously."
If Jessica Sharzer took a playful approach to the story's breakneck narrative pace, she was also taken with the rich underlying themes. "This is a story about the nature of secrets, how they ripple outward, informing our relationships and lives," she says, "but it's also about women's choices."
This was the theme that most inspired Jessica Sharzer, one that underpins the soaring popularity of domestic noir as a cultural phenomenon"that women are required to choose a role to play in life and also penalized for breaking out of those roles. Jessica Sharzer continues, "I like that this story looks at how different women decide between career and children. What are the compromises we make on both sides"and what do we lose when we make them? These are conversations I have with my friends all the time. They're important conversations and I find it exciting that a thriller can speak to these ideas," she says. "In Stephanie and Emily, you have two very different women"a stay-at-home mom and an ambitious career woman"who would never have been friends had it not been for their sons. I'm very interested in these distinctions and the way that women still feel forced to choose one or the other."
To up the visual fun, Jessica Sharzer turned Stephanie from a blogger to a vlogger. While the book switches points-of-view, Sharzer made the choice to keep Stephanie as the center of the action in every scene.
We then watch her as her can-do mommy persona weathers a breathless storm of suspicion, catastrophe and psychological warfare. Jessica Sharzer's affection for Stephanie was acute. "I love her because she's such a geek in certain ways," she laughs. "She tries so hard, yet she knows she's mocked by the other mothers. Her vlog followers are really her only friends, but they're her surrogate friends. So she's lonely and she's also haunted by sins in her past, and all that has informed her desire to become the perfect mom."
That said, cunning and high-flying badass, Emily"Stephanie's dark mirror opposite"was equally fun to write. "Emily is so fashionable and slick, but it's also a façade. Intriguingly, both Emily and Stephanie have dark pasts, but they hide them in very different ways: Stephanie by baking healthy cookies and Emily by working in high fashion, which is all about surfaces and mystique," Jessica Sharzer explains.
Things moved very quickly from the moment Jessica Sharzer took on the adaptation, up to the start of production. She was especially gratified to have Feig take the helm, having loved his women-centered comedies. "I felt so fortunate, because you can see in Paul Feig's work that he has a real talent for tapping into what makes women funny, but never in a mean or two-dimensional way," she observes. Paul Feig had a jolting reaction to his first read of Jessica Sharzer's script. "I remember I was in my backyard, sitting in a comfortable chair, just saying, 'Oh my God, oh my God,' as I read. That feeling honestly never left and it guided me through the entire filmmaking process."
In Jessica Sharzer's script, Paul Feig saw the rare opportunity to take the audience through a shift in perception. "Women are often put in such specific boxes. This is the 'beatific wife' or this is the 'bossy bitch,' but in this film you might think Stephanie is the 'chirpy mom' you want to make fun of, but then you start realizing maybe your perception isn't quite right. Stephanie has other sides to her and she's got all these secrets. I loved the idea that you're always having the rug pulled from under you," says Paul Feig, and he latched onto that idea and ran all the way with it.
Executive producer Mike Drake (Riddick) says of Paul Feig's approach, "Paul Feig had a take on the story that was anything but a straight thriller, one that brought new layers of intrigue and levity to it. Paul Feig is so dedicated to the craft of storytelling and he's also got a very strong creative partner in the film's producer, Jessie Henderson. They both really know what they want and that is what attracted our great cast to the film."
While Paul Feig mined the humor that comes from Stephanie's chipper personality getting ensnared in a tangle of dark mysteries, he was also one-hundred percent committed to taking the suspense in the film to the nth degree. The whole film takes place at a pitch that can turn from a giggle to a scream on a dime.
"I love movies where you're laughing half the time, then terrified the other half," says Paul Feig. "That's a lot like life. You're often thinking, 'Is this person for real? Is there more to what I'm seeing?' In this story, all those thoughts play out."
To make the contrasts between the scary and the funny even starker, Paul Feig decided to shoot the film like a sun-dappled suburban comedy rather than a gritty drama, despite all the paranoia and adrenaline roiling within the story. "In this film, thrilling things happen in the daylight rather than in darkly lit rooms," he notes. "In the suburbs, there's not a lot of hiding among the white walls and bright windows. You see what's going on, at least in the open. That is what makes it so fun."
Mom Vs. Mom: Kendrick Vs. Lively
Anna Kendrick is already known for her unique range. Even so, the role of Stephanie was something completely different for her. Stephanie might share some qualities with Anna Kendrick, such as her exuberance and her everywoman amiability, but there is much more to the performance as Anna Kendrick brings all at once a flair for mischievous humor, emotional complexity and an unleashed fierceness. For Paul Feig, there was simply no other actor for the part. "I love all Anna's performances, but I especially love her when she plays people who are sweet and helpful and candid"and that is Stephanie. Every time she's on screen, you just fall in love with her," he observes. "And yet…she also has this really acerbic side, which is hilarious, so I knew Anna Kendrick would make sure Stephanie isn't a pushover."
He continues, "Stephanie goes through the biggest transformation in this movie because she starts out as what we think is the perfect mom, but when she feels screwed over, that's when she starts to crack open and take on the best attributes of Emily"the drive, the ambition, the not-taking-no-for-an-answer. She6 becomes more skeptical of human nature and uses it to good effect. What I love in Anna's work is that, by the end of the movie, you really feel she has taken herself to a new place."
Anna Kendrick sunk her teeth into a woman who seems to be all about the scrumptious, the cute and the fluffy, but is suppressing a deep abyss of fears, regrets and emotions that must be confronted. Jessie Henderson says, "Anna Kendrick was really truly impressive to watch every day as she became Stephanie. She has all these amazing micro-expressions that can say so much. She's so warm that you gravitate towards her, but she carefully reveals Stephanie's inner cracks in a way that is at once nuanced and thrilling."
It was Paul Feig who convinced Anna Kendrick to throw herself into the complicated role. She says that as soon as they started talking, "I knew A Simple Favor was going to be a genre-bending film." She also liked that within all that genre fluidity, the lives of women are front and center. "Women have such layered, complicated, confusing relationships, so it's great to have a chance to really explore that in such an exciting thriller"
For Anna Kendrick, the pleasure of playing Stephanie was digging into all that is going on beneath her happygo-lucky, public social media persona. Anna Kendrick notes that much as she plays at being a detective once Emily vanishes, she's also just a lonely, anxious single mom with a past she desperately wants to keep locked away. "Stephanie is upbeat and always seeing the bright side, so she can be a little insufferable," Anna Kendrick laughs. "But I think there's also a real sadness to her because really, she's so lonely. When it comes to her relationship with Emily, she's willing to put up with a lot of abuse because it's preferable to her loneliness. And Stephanie also wants validation from Emily. I think that's something a lot of women experience to some degree in some friendships."
The space that Paul Feig gave Anna Kendrick to explore Stephanie's many nooks and crannies opened up the performance even more. "It was so great working with Paul Feig because he makes you feel like you can't fail," she says. "You can try anything and he sees the value in it, so it's a really freeing experience." Another high point for Anna Kendrick was forging that charged and complicated rapport with Blake Lively. "In real life Blake Lively is so sweet, open and warm so it was amazing for me to witness her showing off her funny, dark side as Emily," says Anna Kendrick.
Blake Lively was equally excited by watching Anna Kendrick. "Anna Kendrick can take the simplest action and make it electric. She's so charming, so smart and so elegant," she says. For Lively, the film was a chance to try something unexpected. "Portraying Emily was the first time I had the chance to play a villain, which was fun and sort of delicious," she says.
Blake Lively sees the story as harking back to the Golden Age of Hollywood's thrillers with their comic-tinged theatricality, but also unsettling undercurrents. "A Simple Favor reminded me of some of my favorite films from the past, the ones where you don't know what's going to happen up until the LAST minute," she says. "I love Laura, Gaslight, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, All About Eve... A Simple Favor pays homage to those hyper stylized, thrilling films with a tense storyline and characters who are purposely a bit over the top."
She continues, "We have different iterations of ourselves that we put out into the world"our social media "personality" versus who we are at home, who we are at home vs who we are at work, etc. In this film, I think there's an interesting examination of that" who we are vs who we present ourselves to be.
Women are nurtured to strive to maintain a certain level of perfection, whether outward or inward, but we are all imperfect and that's a conversation that's much more awesome to me than perfection. Exposing true selves is something the characters ultimately do in this film. And you love them all the more for it."
Playing Emily meant exploring extremes of confidence and manipulation, but also of psychological turmoil. As successful and controlling as she is, Emily's life turns out to be anything but stable. "When we first meet Emily, she's very provocative and unflappable, but then we find out she's also incredibly vulnerable," says Blake Lively. "Her personality is multifaceted. She's lived so many different -and dangerouslives. She's like a cat. A three piece suit wearing cat, that is."
Blake Lively took that feline-like slipperiness to the edge. Of her performance, Paul Feig says, "It was so fun to see Blake Lively completely embrace this very, very dark character because she's always been known for playing characters you love. You get to see Blake Lively in a way you haven't before. She pushed herself and she nailed it."
For Blake Lively, her deep fascination with Emily and all of her several faces went right down to collaborating on her hair, makeup and clothing"a pleasure for the renowned fashionista "Blake is a very creative person and she brought a lot of her own ideas about how to style her character through all of the shifts in the film, from sophisticated to gritty looks," says Henderson.
From minute one, Blake Lively knew how she wanted the audience to first see Emily as bold and rule-breaking, before her façade shatters and reveals a whole different persona. "When I read the script I felt we needed to adjust Emily to give her an iconic look that wasn't in the book or screenplay. A look all the people who knew her could expect from her. This way, if she ever needed to disappear, it would make it that much easier. She's an enigma. No one ever knows what she'll do next. So if she sets up expectations, and people feel like they know her, or can predict her, then she has the freedom to change gears on a dime that much more easily. It was tricky to think of something that hadn't been done a million times. Something that was very specific to her, almost like she was a caricature of herself. I wanted a look as distinct as the look Paul Feig has created for himself in life. So then I thought, why not just dress exactly like Paul Feig. Not the unbuttoned shirt, sexy "female" version. The buttoned up, three piece suit, bow tie, pocket square, cuff link wearing version. I wanted to play against the tropes of female sexuality. Because I believe that you don't have to show skin all the time to portray sexuality. That comes from within. The intensity of the character gives all of that, skin or no skin. Then when you see pops of skin here and there, it makes it that much more shocking and voyeuristic feeling. It's that much more potent. And she knows it. It's all about power with her" how she wields her power over others and toys with them. She's such a fun character."
For executive producer Mike Drake, the push-and-pull between Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick made the script come to life in ways no one could have imagined. "There was so much great stuff for both of these actors to really bite into with this story. I think you can see how much they each loved being able to explore the different facets of their characters, letting the audience find the truth," he sums up.
As the opposite worlds of Stephanie and Emily begin to entangle, so too do their families, which led to an exhilarating casting search for fresh talent to portray them. One of the most challenging roles to cast was Emily's dashing, but disillusioned husband, Sean, who seems to be befuddled by her disappearance, and increasingly turns to Stephanie for solace and support and …more.
To play the role, at once alluring and tricky, Paul Feig chose Henry Golding, a quickly rising British-Malaysian actor also seen this year starring in Crazy Rich Asians. "Henry is handsome, he has a beautiful voice and he has that ineffable sense of cool"but most importantly, Henry is also a really talented and dedicated actor," says the director. "He was ready to explore the minutia of Sean's every word and I thought from day one, this guy is going to be a big star."
For Henry Golding, the teetering triangle between his character, Emily and Stephanie was a magnet. "I was fascinated by the shifting dynamics between the three and how that changes drastically at times in the course of the story," he says. "I was also fascinated by Sean as this struggling author who finds a new lease on life when his wife goes missing."
As for what attracts Sean to both Emily and then Stephanie, Henry Golding explains: "Sean was once a celebrated writer and the talk of the town in New York so this led to him being chased by Emily. She was very seductive, powerful and strong, but it became a toxic relationship because eventually she became his everything when he stopped writing. When Emily goes missing, and he's so distraught, he finds compassion and comfort with Stephanie"and it's something he's never experienced."
Henry Golding and Paul Keig talked about the cool sophistication of Cary Grant as a model for the character, but Henry Golding also credits Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively with bringing out the best in him. "Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively are forces to be reckoned with," he muses. "Of course, I was nervous stepping in with them, but they were nothing but supportive. For me it was a gift just to watch them work. They make you believe every twist and turn."
Adding to those twists and turns from more innocent points of view are Stephanie's son, Miles, and Emily's son, Nicky"both who echo their mothers' rivalry as things get more and more complicated. Jumping into the challenging roles are newcomers Joshua Satine (portraying Miles) and Ian Ho (portraying Nicky), who both won the roles through auditions. "They're both such great actors that they became their characters," says Paul Feig of the youngsters. "Nicky is a little spitfire who knows more than anyone believes, and Miles is like an extension of Stephanie, in that Stephanie has hidden away from him anything that is sad and dark."
Jessie Henderson was equally impressed with the grade school stars. "Joshua and Ian are so young that it was incredibly impressive that they were able to learn their lines, let alone bring such emotion. We were very lucky to find them because they add authenticity to the storytelling," she says.
Rounding out the accomplished cast are Andrew Rannells (The Intern, "Girls") as judgmental school dad, Darren; Linda Cardellini, an alum of Feig's "Freaks and Geeks," from Emily's mysterious past, as Diana Hyland; Jean Smart ("Fargo," "24") as Emily's eccentric mother, Mrs. McLanden; Rupert Friend (The Death of Stalin, "Homeland") as Emily's boss and head of his namesake fashion empire, Dennis Nylon; and Bashir Salahuddin (Snatched, "GLOW") as Detective Summerville on the case.
Rannells had long been in the filmmakers' sights. "I think Andrew is so talented, and Paul Feig and I have wanted to work with him for a quite a while," says Henderson. "He plays Darren as having a little bit of a chip on his shoulder and skeptical of what everybody else is bringing to the table. Andrew does that beautifully and in a way that's really funny."
Darren's role is as if he is at the center of a Greek chorus-like group, which also includes Sona (Aparna Nancherla, "Master of None") and Stacy (Kelly McCormack, "Killjoys"). Rannells elaborates, "Darren is part of a group of very critical, very gossipy parents who are kind of mean to Stephanie. They see Stephanie as this Martha Stewart type who is always getting her hands in everything that happens at the school, much to their horror. She always has the right snacks and the right games and the other parents are thinking, 'Just calm down!' Darren and his friends sit on the sidelines making snide comments and critiquing Stephanie, until they start to see that maybe she is onto something."
For Paul Feig, working with Cardellini was a chance to fulfill a long-standing hope to reunite. "One of the greatest experiences of my career was working with Linda in 'Freaks and Geeks,'" he explains. "We hadn't had the chance to work together for 17 years. She's such a great actress and this character is so not Lindsay from 'Freaks and Geeks,' so it was fun to watch her become someone dark and unpredictable. We had such a good time, and she will always be my hero."
Cardellini notes that Diana Hyland plays a catalytic role in understanding Emily's past. "Diana's whole life crumbled because of Emily and so when she hears about her again it is like being haunted by a ghost. She goes through a whole range of emotions in a tiny, short period of time," she describes.
Casting Jean Smart was also a highlight for Paul Feig. "I've had the privilege of knowing the amazing Jean Smart personally for a number of years and she's just such a pro. She brought in lots of ideas for her character," he says, "including the idea that Mrs. McLanden might wear a fancy track suit as she's still trying to maintain this idea of herself as someone rich and classy despite living in decay."
For Smart, the character was a blast to play. "She's someone who has been through a lot and gone a little south," muses Smart. "And having the chance to work with Anna Kendrick again was fabulous." When it came to casting the flamboyant Dennis Nylon, the filmmakers got lucky when Rupert Friend read the script and asked to play the role. "Rupert's interest surprised me," confesses Paul Feig, "but the minute he started playing the character and offering his ideas, he was so great. We really had fun changing and expanding his scene."
Also adding to the mix is Detective Summerville, who is both trying to track down Emily and figure out why no one's story is quite adding up. "Bashir Salahuddin is great in the role," says Henderson. "He's incredibly funny, but he also has the needed gravitas. There's a cat and mouse going on between him and Stephanie and he always seems to pop up at the wrong moment. Bashir really teases out the tension in a way that only increases Stephanie's and the audience's anxiety."
Looks Can Be Deceiving: The Design
Unfolding in a deceptively placid Connecticut greenbelt, A Simple Favor brings a distinctively sunlit, colorsplashed façade to the darkest of movie genres. From the start, Feig knew he wanted to riff on the idea of a 21st century suburban noir"and to starkly contrast the beauty and lightness of the film's visual design with the ceaselessly turbulent turns of Stephanie and Emily's story.
Paul Feig worked with a crack team to make that happen. Leading the team is Academy Award®-nominated director of photography, John Schwartzman, known for his lush work on Sea Biscuit, The Rock, Jurassic World and Pearl Harbor, to name a few. A film school classmate of Feig's, and a long-time friend, Schwartzman thoroughly enjoyed their first creative collaboration.
John Schwartzman and Paul Feig started right off the bat talking about how to both use and veer from standard suspense techniques. "It was important to keep playing with the idea that no one knows what's really going on almost until the very end of the story. That's why I didn't want to do the kind of expected shadows-on-the-wall noir treatment. I felt like that was too on the nose and gave too much away," explains John Schwartzman.
In looking for a different path into paranoia, John Schwartzman latched onto David Lynch's 1980s neo-noir Blue Velvet as a guidepost. "I was interested in the brightly lit, poppy colors of that film and I used it as an inspiration," says the cinematographer. "The idea was to not try to hide things in the shadows on this movie. Let's put it all out there in plain sight and let the audience figure out all the information."
Using the brand new medium-format Panavision DXL camera with Panavision Primo 70mm lenses, Schwartzman also aimed for immediacy, dropping the audience right into Stephanie's confusion over Emily's disappearance. He also had fun using Stephanie's vlogs as their own visual element. "We wanted the audience to feel like a follower of Stephanie's vlog, so I said to Paul Feig, 'Let's film Anna doing the vlog scenes and then I'll re-film those scenes on a very high-resolution, very large monitor.' That's how we got the texture of the pixels," he explains. "There are also little Easter egg nuggets in each of those vlogs, which makes them really fun. And the tone of them changes as the mystery progresses."
Says Paul Feig of the vlogs, "The great thing in the beginning is that the vlogs allow you to have a running commentary from Stephanie, where you get to hear what she's thinking out loud and also see how she presents herself to her fans. But then the vlog becomes something else: a tool that Stephanie uses against Emily, sending her coded messages that her fans don't see happening."
Another highlight for John Schwartzman was shooting Emily's breathtakingly modernist glass house, a location uncovered by production designer, Jefferson Sage, who has worked with Paul Feig since "Freaks and Geeks" and including Bridesmaids. Sage says, "Emily's house had to be pristine and high-end. It's all about empty spaces and voids and big open windows with just the right the play of light."
The production got lucky while scouting. "The house we ultimately found had this amazing concrete floor that allowed us to really roll the cameras everywhere," explains Paul Feig. "And it had a lot of room, which was important because John Schwartzman's is the king of moving the camera."
The color palette within Emily's house"cold greys and whites"are a mirror to Stephanie's brightly colored, more modestly suburban abode. "The two houses gave us two very distinct visual stories about who those characters are and where they come from," notes Sage.
One of Sage's favorite sets is Mrs. McLanden's dilapidated mansion, shot on the vast, eerie grounds of a wealthy Canadian entrepreneur's former estate. "That set was so fun to create because Mrs. McLanden was rich, but then the bottom fell out, so we wanted a sense of grandeur and money that has turned into a bunch of collected junk. It's funny, yet scary, and you get a sense of something lost."
For Paul Feig, Sage's creation of Dennis Nylon's gallery-like offices, which he built from scratch in an empty warehouse, was the most astonishing. "I think the Dennis Nylon set is a real masterwork by Jeff," says the director. "The open floor-plan makes it so visually exciting as Stephanie is sneaking around in there. She is exposed to the world."
Like John Schwartzman, Sage had fun breaking the rules. "We wanted to create extreme tension, but also at the same time, let people step outside the form a bit and be able to laugh. That gave the design an exciting wrinkle where we could push the style of everything a bit. Whereas we usually would embrace the grittiness in the corners of a room as a real element of life, in this movie we cleaned the corners out and made everything immaculate."
He notes that another unusual focus of the film was keeping the flow seamless. "One of our big goals was to make all the transitional scenes as visually potent as the main action. This way you move from scene to scene in a way that keeps you inside the tension of the story at all times," says Sage. Equally key to the film's style are the costumes of Renée Ehrlich Kalfus, who recently designed the period costumes for the acclaimed NASA drama, Hidden Figures. Feig gave Kalfus a clear direction. "I knew I wanted Stephanie to dress very brightly," says the director. "She tries to cover up whatever inner turmoil she has with happy colors around her and she wears really fun clothes. Renee is an amazing designer and did a great job with both Anna and Blake."
Kalfus sees the two main characters as having more in common than it might appear. "Both are very smart and both are hiding behind a kind of armor, so that informed the arc of their costumes. Stephanie's character is branding herself as the DIY, perky suburban mom. So her style is very suburban and sweet, but then it changes and darkens as she becomes more aware of the plot going on around her. Emily has branded herself in an opposite way, and she dresses a lot like Paul Feig does, in some incredibly iconic11 men's suiting. It's a really powerful, strategic look and we really pushed it. Hopefully both have a certain mystery because this is a story about how you don't always know who people are."
The clothing demands were high"Anna Kendrick alone has 39 costume changes"but Kalfus especially enjoyed working with the pair. "They are both so striking in their own way. I had a really good time seeing how the costumes informed their characters," she says.
Holding everyone together on a very intense shooting schedule was Paul Feig, whose strong vision of the film held steady amidst a storyline that gets wilder and wilder with each moment. Kalfus points out, "Paul Feig is a great leader because he is incredibly decisive as a director. He's smart, intuitive and always so elegant in his three-piece suits, but then he also has this wonderful comic mind."
The chance to bring that mix of intelligence and wit to screen is what inspired the entire cast and crew of A Simple Favor. Says Mike Drake, "Paul Feig allowed everyone involved to take risks and feel supported. Everybody responds to that, everybody thrives off of that, and everybody does their best work."
Henderson adds, "Paul Feig creates a set that is safe for creativity, so you see people stretch beyond what they're already good at. We had such a talented cast and crew on this film and Paul pushed them to do even more than what you may have seen from them before. This is a real skill set of his."
The result is a film that keeps the audience guessing and questioning what they're seeing and feeling for nearly every second of its running time, right up through the final frame. Henderson sums it up, "Each reveal in the film is more fun and shocking than the last and keeps you on the edge of your seat. It's the kind of film that has so many hidden foreshadowing moments that it will be really fun to watch over and over."
A Simple Favour
Release Date: September 13th, 2018