You know, sometimes life takes you by surprise. You run into someone you haven’t seen in years. You fall in love with someone you’ve known all your life.
And sometimes, you become a Blake Lively stan.
Lively, an actress previously best known for Gossip Girl and her Goop knock-off site Preserve, has slowly but surely been building an impressive body of work for herself. After turning in somewhat broad performances in movies like The Town and Savages, Lively went on something of a streak. She led the odd-but-intriguing Age of Adaline, impressed in a bit part in Café Society (a performance that didn’t get discussed much because of the film’s director, Woody Allen), and scored a home run by carrying one-woman shark movie The Shallows on her back.
All of this led me to the place of appreciating but not quite adoring Lively. I had my eye on her, but I still wasn’t expecting much. The trailers for A Simple Favor, directed by Bridesmaids and Spy helmer Paul Feig, got me intrigued but not invested. Even a kiss between she and co-star Anna Kendrick only raised an eyebrow of curiosity for me.
Reader, I wasn’t ready for A Simple Favor. It is a bonkers movie, and I will have a full review up later this week. But for now, I need you to know this: Blake Lively fucking slays in it.
Blake Lively is to A Simple Favor as Rose Byrne was to Spy: an actress formerly best known for her TV work who’s impressed in a movie or two (for Byrne, it was Bridesmaids and Neighbors) who sinks her teeth into a campy, dark role, and runs away with the whole damn movie.
In A Simple Favor, Lively plays Emily Nelson, a mysterious fellow mom at Stephanie Smothers’ (Kendrick) child’s school. Emily works at a high-powered PR job in the city, which intimidates and attracts Connecticut-based Stephanie. Over martinis in the afternoon while their sons are having play dates, Emily reveals all kinds of fascinating layers, from her past relationship with a tempestuous artist to a threesome she and her husband Sean (Crazy Rich Asians‘ Henry Golding) had with his teaching assistant.
Emily is interestingly conceived, both originally by novelist Darcey Bell (who wrote the 2017 book of the same name) and screenwriter Jessica Sharzer. But it’s Lively who makes her whole, adding all kinds of smirks and gazes that draw you in. It’s easy to be as intoxicated with Emily as Stephanie is, all because Lively makes her a woman you’re both desperate and terrified to know. If the role of Emily is a juicy strawberry, Lively’s performance is a warm, delicious chocolate dipping sauce.
Unlike Feig’s other movies, A Simple Favor is not a pure comedy. It’s certainly darkly funny at times, and has its fair share of out-and-out jokes. But more than anything, the film has this unsettling air of absurdity around it — matched by Lively’s difficult-to-pin-down energy. Emily will say something gonzo, purely to shock Stephanie, and you’re left unsure of whether to laugh or gasp. Even the way Lively walks as Emily can catch you off guard; it’s like she’s a lioness, beautiful and fearsome in equal measure. The mood of the film and the performance worked for me, because it felt like I was disoriented as Stephanie at times.
A Simple Favor gets a little too absurd at times to be called truly good — it’s more of a crazy fun romp than anything else — but Lively stands head-and-shoulders above. This is the kind of performance I hoped she was capable of, but didn’t dare to dream. If this film represents a new way forward for her, we’re in for a thrilling next act from Serena van der Woodsen.