Stephanie Smothers might be in the running for world’s best single mom. Full-time mommy vlogger and connoisseur of all things domestic, Stephanie buzzes around at every elementary school function with her son, Miles, a handful of balloons and a plate of cookies always in tow.
She’s ready and available at any time, even if it’s just helping out with one simple favor. Which is why when best friend Emily asks her to pick up her son, Nicky, she does so without hesitation.
But when dinnertime rolls around and Emily hasn’t shown up yet, Stephanie starts to get worried. It’s so unlike Emily to be late. And not to respond to her texts. The next morning, Stephanie takes the boys to school; still no word from Emily.
Now she’s worried.
Stephanie calls Emily’s husband, Sean. A few hours later, the police launch a full-fledged investigation into Emily’s absence.
Where is Emily?
As the police interrogate family members about Emily’s mysterious disappearance, Stephanie begins to question her knowledge of her best friend.
You can get close to her but you can never quite reach her.
After all, how much can you really know someone?
She’s like an enigma. Like a beautiful ghost.
And what if the person you thought you knew doesn’t even exist?
Emily doesn’t have many positive characteristics. But she does genuinely want to be a good mother and to have people in her life whom she can trust. She also encourages Stephanie to stick up for herself, to be assertive and not to constantly apologize to others.
Stephanie, for her part, is about as different from Emily as she could be. She’s a hardworking single mom who is actively present in her son’s life (school activities, healthy meals, discipline, etc.). She lovingly looks out for his best interests. She wants to make friends (though it’s hard for her), and she’s kind to others. When Emily goes missing, Stephanie is quick to help needy family members and to care for Emily’s son, Nicky.
Abusive parents send two young sisters to a Bible camp every year, in the hope that their behavior and personalities will be improved (in the eyes of the parents). The mother refers to her daughters as “evil” girls who need to be “exorcised.” Two camp counselors joke about a lake filled with “holy water” and Jesus’ miracle of feeding the 5,000.
In one of her blogs, Stephanie says that she avoids the topic of religion because she doesn’t want to “offend any non-denominational moms.” A woman feels guilty after looking at a statue of Jesus on the cross.
[Spoiler Warning] A reverend prays the Lord’s Prayer and says “God rest her soul” at a funeral. A child comforts his friend by telling him, “At least your mom’s in heaven now.”
Three sex scenes strategically avoid nudity, but still depict explicit movements and sounds. One scene involves a married woman and her half-brother. Another pictures a married couple having sex in a bathroom stall. The third implies oral sex.
Emily and her husband, Sean, have “as much chemistry as a science fair” as they make out and get physical. Emily uses her sexual prowess as a weapon against Sean and those around her. In one scene, she wears a suit jacket that is completely open in the front (partially revelaing her breasts). Emily has a graphic, naked self-portrait hanging in her home (as well as a sex toy in her closet).
A woman is seen completely unclothed from behind. Men are seen shirtless, and women wear revealing outfits. Emily smacks Stephanie’s backside suggestively. Two women kiss.
A female character (who’s called a “dyke”) talks about a past love affair with another woman. A man is called a “perv.” Someone says, “Prudes are people too.” Emily tells Stephanie about a threesome that she and her husband had with another person. Sean asks about a possible affair. We hear several graphic conversations about both the male and female anatomy (two of which are related to childbirth). A song refers to women as “hoes.”
Two young sisters are physically abused by their father; we hear him beating one of the girls. Later, they kill their father by setting their home on fire. It’s also insinuated that the girls are verbally abused by both parents. Someone drowns a family member. A woman isn’t afraid to physically harm herself for her own gain. (She throws a wrench at her own face.) A man is shot in the chest twice. A woman wields (and hides) a gun on multiple occasions. Someone is hit by a car.
Stephanie tells a story about a mom whose head was found “in a trash can.” Emily mentions that the best thing she could do for her child would be to “blow my brains out” and tells someone else to hang himself. We hear another sarcastic reference to a murder and a suicide. Kids joke about their dolls killing each other, then coming back to life.
Sean’s mother lies in a hospital bed after a head injury; Emily cruelly comments that she “broke her head.” The body of a dead woman is pulled from a lake. We hear that a baby is stillborn. Someone narrowly avoids an accident that would have been fatal. Two men exhibit aggressive behavior in conversation and then later die in a car crash. A little boy repeatedly punches his friend.
CRUDE OR PROFANE LANGUAGE
God’s name is misused nearly 10 times (occassionally with with “d–n”), and Jesus’ name is misused five times (once with the f-word). The f-word is used more 50 times, and the s-word about a dozen times. Other profanities include “a–,” “a–hole,” h—” and d–n.” There are a few crude references to genitals.
DRUG AND ALCOHOL CONTENT
Jokes are made about the consumption of crystal meth, Xanax, antidepressants and “some pills.” It’s assumed that a woman is using heroin and we see another woman shoot up with that drug using a needle.. Friends pass around a bong, and a song mentions the use of marijuana. Emily wonders (jokingly) if Stephanie’s son drinks alcohol. Emily is a borderline alcoholic who (among other characters) imbibes various mixed drinks. Stephanie gets drunk.
OTHER NEGATIVE ELEMENTS
Emily doesn’t make the greatest decisions, and she says so herself. She tells Stephanie that some of her tattoos indicate “another one of my bad decisions.” And she even lets Stephanie in on her marital and financial problems.
Emily and Stephanie trade confessions about the “wildest” things they’re ever done (most of which are dark secrets). Emily’s husband, Sean, reveals that his wife is fiercely private. She doesn’t want her picture taken, going so far as shutting down his Facebook profile, lest it reveal personal information about her.
A woman steals a large sum of money from a former lover and tries to obtain an even larger sum illegally. Someone is described as a pathological liar and a thief. Deception plays a big role in the film.
People make fun of Stephanie and her “mommy vlog” and wonder if she can survive Emily’s abrasive personality. Stephanie believes that loneliness “probably kills more people than cancer.” Causal, harsh comments are made about bad parenting and children viewing their own parents as “losers.” A fashion mogul tries to make light of child labor.
You think you know someone. But people aren’t always who they seem.
This taut, suspenseful story takes two women who are seemingly opposite and intertwines their growing similarities while contrasting their stark differences. And the result of saying yes to one simple request unlocks a story full of increasing moral murkiness. The film shows how one lie can lead to a lifetime of deception and secrets, and how those secrets can ultimately destroy you.
That said, A Simple Favor isn’t really intended as a cautionary tale as much as it’s designed to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. And it delivers in that respect as it twists and turns around a gripping plot. But despite some compelling cinematic moments, what we end up with here is basically Gone Girl-lite. Whereas that thriller was completely submerged in explicit sexual content and graphic violence, this one doesn’t dive quite so deeply into those problematic waters.
But it wades into them far enough to warrant more than a simple warning from us. Don’t be deceived by the presence of crowd-pleasers Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively in the lead roles here: A Simple Favor definitely earns it R-rating.
By Kristin Smith