— Lionsgate

It’s become increasingly difficult to sell a movie that isn’t already tied to an existing franchise and character, it’s even harder to try being ambitious and groundbreaking in a way that won’t scare away potential viewers, and it’s almost impossible for a comedic director to shift into drama, the Craig Mazins of the world aside.

But in 2018, a high-profile comedy director completely changed gears and made a mystery thriller that holds up beautifully. It’s recently rocketed up Netflix’s charts just as the sequel finishes filming, so now’s the perfect time to catch up and enjoy a few twisty surprises.

A Simple Favor opens in the most 2018 way possible, as young widow Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick) introduces a parenting vlog. We follow her through life as a tryhard single mom who constantly volunteers for every school event and lives her Martha Stewart fantasy. But life changes when she meets Emily Nelson (Blake Lively), a PR executive who picks up her son from the same school while decked out in tailored suits and casual tuxedos.

As Stephanie gets to know Emily and her husband Sean (Henry Golding), their relationship goes from casual friends to close confidantes who spend hours drinking fancy martinis and listening to French pop. When Emily suddenly goes missing, Stephanie obsessively follows the breadcrumbs to try solving her disappearance, while also finding herself tempted to take her place.

Directed by Paul Feig, best known for Bridesmaids, Spy, and other goofiness, A Simple Favor finds its humor in more nuanced elements. Stephanie vlogs about her search for Emily while still delivering fun activities and recipes for parents, and she’s caught trying on one of Emily’s high-fashion gowns just as a detective comes by to ask questions.

But the majority of the story is a mystery told in the vein of Big Little Lies, one that forces Stephanie to not only conquer her fear of looking like anything other than a nice supermom, but also reckon with the dark history of her husband’s demise. The reveal — and that of Emily’s true fate — are both far more shocking than you expect.

This Hitchcock-meets-Desperate Housewives tone is enhanced by an impressive supporting cast that boasts names like Andrew Rannells, Aparna Nancherla, Jean Smart, Linda Cardellini, and Patti Harrison. Feig knows how to direct comedic actors in a way that delivers a genuine dramatic performance without muting what jokes they do tell, and that talent is on full display here.

While the story has a definitive ending, this isn’t the last we’ll see of Stephanie and Emily. According to Feig, filming for the untitled Simple Favor sequel is almost done, and it will premiere on Prime in 2025. While you wait, enjoy the platonic ideal of a modern-day mystery: slightly campy, a little queer, and as full of twists and turns as it is fabulous costumes.

A Simple Favor is streaming on Netflix.

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