A Simple Favor merges the casual appeal of a great beach read with the twisty uncertainty of a well-crafted thriller. Director Paul Feig refers to the movie, which stars Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively as unlikely best friends Stephanie and Emily, as a “Hitchcockian thriller.” We can certainly see the DNA of films like Shadow of a Doubt and Vertigo in the footage, along with echoes of great recent thrillers like The Girl on the Train.
The film is based on the first novel by Darcey Bell, published in 2017. Before we head to theaters on September 14, let’s take a look at the novel that inspired the story, and explore how this narrative made its way from the pages of a book to the bright lights of Hollywood.
The Original Novel
The story of Emily and Stephanie, and the disappearance that ends up revealing hidden details about both women, came to prominence last year. Darcey Bell’s novel was given a big push by publisher Harper Collins, no doubt because the imprint understood the appeal of a story with relatable but potentially messed-up characters, and plenty of twists and turns.
The story follows mommy blogger Stephanie Ward (played by Anna Kendrick), who befriends the odd, mysterious, and rich Emily (Blake Lively). They’re polar opposites, yet they get along really well. One day, Emily asks Stephanie to do her a favor — and then she disappears. Soon Emily is believed dead, but Stephanie puts her internet sleuthing skills to work in order to find out what really happened.
Reliability? Who Needs It?
Bell whose origins trace back to a dairy farm in Iowa, was a pre-school teacher when she wrote the book, and her experience with a whole range of parental personalities seems to have ended up in the book.
One of the most notable aspects of Bell’s novel — and presumably the film as well — is that it puts the idea of an unreliable narrator to work. As the story goes forward, with perspectives from three different characters, it’s difficult to know who is being truthful.
One way the story explores unreliability is in the contrast between public and private personalities. Stephanie’s writing work is as important to the character as being a mom, but it also gives us insights into her personality. In an interview with Washington Independent Review Of Books, Bell explained why social media is important to the story:
“I did want to create more suspense by showing how much of a performance having a blog — or any social-media presence, for that matter — can be. Stephanie, the mom blogger, and Stephanie, the best friend and lonely widow, are two very different people.”
From Page To Screen
Bell’s novel was just published last year, but it was a hot property for studios months before the book hit store shelves. In 2016, a year before publication, 20th Century Fox bought the film rights to the book. At some point, development moved over to Lionsgate, with American Horror Story‘s Jessica Sharzer writing the script.
Compared to many other hot literary properties, the turnaround from page to screen was incredibly speedy. Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick signed on to star soon after the move to Lionsgate. Henry Golding later joined the cast, as did Andrew Rannells, Linda Cardellini, Kelly McCormack, and Rupert Friend. Production began in August of 2017, and just over a year later — less than three years after the rights first sold — we get to see the movie.
Can we trust Emily or Stephanie? We’ll find out when A Simple Favor hits theaters later this month.