'A Simple Favor' and 'Holes' are this week's picks.
Keeping it short(er) this week because it's my birthday weekend and that legally* allows me to do what I want. On to the picks.
*This isn't true
“A Simple Favor” (2018)
Hulu, rated R, 117 minutes
I like to give a spotlight to prestige pictures on here, but I’m certainly not above a movie only in it for the fun of it.
“A Simple Favor” was not designed to win an Oscar. It was designed to be the equivalent of a beach read, or, as critic David Sims wrote, the perfect airplane movie. The problem with these types of films is that they often don’t realize what they are and take themselves too seriously. Everyone here, from director Paul Feig on to stars Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick, knows the deal here. It turns out great. “A Simple Favor” is for watching while chatting with your friends, a glass (or three) of vino on hand.
Kendrick plays suburban mom Stephanie Smothers (great name), who has a son named Miles and runs a not-so-popular vlog on the side. While picking up Miles from school, she meets Emily Nelson (Lively), a one-percent mom who casts a mysterious aura but seems to take a liking to Stephanie. They strike up a rather intense friendship until Emily goes missing after asking Stephanie to watch her son, Nicky.
Stephanie begins looking into Emily’s disappearance while also helping Emily’s husband, Sean (Henry Golding), a popular author, watch after Nicky. Things quickly descend into madness from there, sometimes reaching soap opera levels of ridiculousness. But that’s the fun of “A Simple Favor:” It is a guilty pleasure that holds all the guilt itself, allowing you to enjoy it wholeheartedly. Not unlike last week’s pick, “Burning,” the movie (albeit in a tonally different way) will have you questioning your loyalties throughout. Does every twist logically work? No, but most do, and that’s plenty good enough.
Golding is fine as the single husband and Kendrick is quite believable as the bubbly soccer mom that gets in over her head, but Lively is a knockout and steals every scene. This is the part she was born to play. She has the right balance of sensuality, humor and menace, not an easy feat. Not unlike last week’s pick, “Burning,” the movie (albeit in a tonally different way) will have you questioning your loyalties throughout. Not every twist works, but most do.
I don’t often talk about appearances in movies here because that often gets awkward and/or creepy, but I think it’s fair to say that everyone in this film looks stunning, and the costume department did a great of accentuating not only their looks but the type of movie Feig and Co. were attempting to make: A steamy thriller that owes more to “Wild Things” or “Basic Instinct” than anyone wants to admit, for some reason. Those movies are fun, too! Just the kind of fun that makes you want to shower afterwards, that’s all.
Hulu, rated PG, 117 minutes
When I was in Mrs. Mantzouranis’ third grade class at Olney Elementary in Maryland, we read a lot of Louis Sachar. The “Wayside School” series was a particular favorite, but we also read “Holes,” the story of young Stanley Yelnats IV and his summer of digging holes at Camp Green Lake while all kinds of local legends came to life around him. We all loved it.
A few months after we finished that book, my friend Joey and I went with my father to a local movie theater to see something (not important). But while there, we found something incredible: A cutout of actor Shia LaBeouf dressed in an orange jumpsuit, dirt caked into his face. A hand towel flowed from the back of his ruffled baseball cap. The bottom of the cutout read a single word: “Holes.”
Stanley Yelnats IV was coming to the silver screen! We were so excited. The following Monday we told Mrs. Mantzouranis about the news. This was 2003, before the internet explosion. Now you can track every upcoming release with a simple search. Back then, if you didn’t see a television commercial for one, you were probably going to miss it.
Mrs. Mantzouranis was thrilled, too. We then took a deep breath and floated the second part of our plan: “What if … we saw it as a class on a field trip?”
There was a theater within walking distance of the school. It wouldn’t require much effort. To our shock, Mrs. Mantzouranis actually listened to our idea. She said she would talk it over with the principal, and because she treated us like humans, she meant it.
And by God, we got that field trip. We had to bring the rest of the third-grade classes along, but whatever. It was a triumph of the highest order. The rest of the grade saw Joey and I as saviors — for like a week, anyway. Then we went back to being normal kids.
Anyway, “Holes:” pretty good movie! But the book is even better. Read it to your kids.
Quote of the Week:
Zig-Zag (Max Kasch), singing, in "Holes:"
"You got to go and dig those holes / With broken hands and withered souls / Emancipated from all you know / You got to go and dig those holes."