By Stacy Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
I feel a little guilty reviewing “A Simple Favor” because the Asianiest things in this movie is Henry Golding and the child actor, Ian Ho, who plays his son.
“A Simple Favor” is super fun. It’s like “Gone Girl,” if “Gone Girl” were funny. The movie is a thriller-mystery about a mysterious and enviable woman, Emily (Blake Lively), who becomes friends with a real socially awkward but adorable dork, Stephanie (Anna Kendrick). This odd couple crackles with fun chemistry that made me laugh a lot — until Emily suddenly vanishes without a trace — and then turns up dead! And then we start wondering if the husband, Sean (Henry Golding), did it!
Guys, this stuff happened in the first 20 minutes of the movie. I did not even give you spoilers. That’s how bananas this movie is.
From Emily’s death, the movie takes some really crazy, unexpected, wildly exciting turns. There were moments that were frankly scary for me, because I am a wuss and I don’t like scary movies. There was a moment when I was so pissed at Northwest Asian Weekly’s editor, Ruth, because I did not sign up to review a scary Exorcist-y movie, and I felt she tricked me. But I closed my eyes for a few seconds, and then the terror passed.
So the movie does not become a horror movie at all, but the fact that this was a legit worry for me at a certain point should speak to how well this movie flexes.
Asian or nah?
“A Simple Favor” is based on the 2017 novel of the same name by Darcey Bell.
I actually just spent a long time trying to Google whether or not Golding’s character, Sean Townsend, is also of Asian descent in the book. Unfortunately, there is no information about this on the internet. I didn’t want to pay top dollar for the book, to read it only to verify this. I did read the first four pages through the Amazon preview, and Sean’s race was not explained in those pages at all.
So I’m going to cautiously assume that this is actually cool ethnicity-bending casting! I’m going to assume that director Paul Feig, the delightful person that brought us fun, feminist-y fare like “Bridesmaids” and the “Ghostbusters” reboot, took a white character and put an Asian actor in him.
I think this film was yellow-washed! Can I say that? Is that bad to say?
Anyway, because Golding was cast as a lead, everyone related to him in the movie was also Asian-y! That was really cool. Of note is the actor who plays Sean and Emily’s son, Ian Ho. He was simultaneously adorable and a really good child actor. He had to throw a tantrum a few times in the movie as well as mourn his mom’s death, and I believed him each time. He had a white counterpart,
Stephanie’s son (played by Joshua Satine), and I did not buy that performance at all.
Throughout the movie, I was just thinking that it is so cool that this adorable Asian child is getting such a meaty role in a real Hollywood feature. Maybe this adorable Asian child will continue acting and in a decade, we will be seeing him smash a paparazzo’s camera on whatever TMZ is in 10 years.
I read that Feig’s wife told her husband to cast Golding as Sean. I read that Feig called up Jon M. Chu, director of “Crazy Rich Asians,” and basically asked if Golding was cool to work with or not. Chu said Golding is awesome.
Thus, Feig decided to cast him.
Watch it or nah?
I really enjoyed this movie, just like how I generally enjoy all of Paul Feig’s work. He tends to put women at the center of his work, and his work also tends to focus on friendships (typically between women) more than it does romantic relationships. Feig also leans hard on this awkward, sometimes-rambly, and very, very sweet-yet-also-perverse sense of humor. All of the aforementioned things stay true with “A Simple Favor.”
Additionally, Kendrick is consistent (consistently good at her job). Lively was surprisingly very charismatic and effective that it made me think that she has not been given the right material in her career thus far. And Golding — (this is his second movie and before this, he was a TV presenter) — it is actually kind of nuts that this guy is naturally so gifted at acting. The three leads make this movie really fun to watch, and my emotional investment in them kept me hanging on with each plot twist and turn.
Finally, the costuming and set design is just gorgeous and lush — pastel pops all over. This movie is a visual feast for the eyes.
Stacy Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.