Mathew Rodriguez firmly believes Blake Lively should be an Oscar nominee for playing a dom queer woman with a penchant for ice-cold martinis, three-piece tuxedos and leaving her kid for weeks in the hands of a perky Anna Kendrick. He is, of course, talking about the deeply underrated and subversive queer 2018 film A Simple Favor.
“Blake Lively has an Oscar-worthy performance here, and when I say that to people, they roll their eyes and think I’m being a silly faggot,” Rodriguez says. “I know you think I’m just stanning some woman. But she’s a captivating character you wouldn’t love… who also despises children.” If that logline were applied to a Julianne Moore film, we all know she’d have an Oscar.
Now available on Hulu and Prime Video, A Simple Favor is getting its due — two years too late — thanks to a dearth of new programming and a need to mentally escape this pandemic.
The film follows Anna Kendrick, in her most Kendrick-esque role, as Stephanie Smothers, a plucky, single mommy blogger who investigates the disappearance of a new friend. That friend is Emily Nelson, a fellow parent at her child’s school, played by Blake Lively.
A Simple Favor was set to be Bridesmaids and Spy director Paul Feig’s pivot to serious drama, featuring a star-studded supporting ensemble: Henry Golding, Andrew Rannells, Linda Cardellini and Jean Smart. It certainly reached its monetary goal: The film grossed $97 million worldwide on a $20 million budget. Many critics backed the film, too: Kate Walsh at the Los Angeles Times called it “as bright and bracing as an ice-cold gin martini with a lemon twist, and just as satisfying.” (MEL’s Tim Grierson felt otherwise.)
Still, support for the late-summer release sputtered out by fall, when awards season ramped up. A Simple Favor was notably left out of the discussion, even at the more gaudy Golden Globes.
Longtime fans of the film believe this snafu is a lesson for Hollywood: that gays and girls are always its best marketing tool. Lionsgate billed the film as a thriller with a 1950s housewife aesthetic, but the promo was a fatal mistake: A Simple Favor debuted in the wake of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, which already satisfied the public hankering for neo-noir women-on-the-run stories. “There was a key missing element: the humor not being played out in the marketing,” says screenwriter (and New Girl stan) Alanna Bennett, who dissects the film with fellow hosts Jordan Crucchiola and Christina Grace on A Simple Podcast.
In certain queer circles, Lively’s most famous fashion moment wasn’t at the Met Gala or on the set of Gossip Girl. It’s an A Simple Favor promotional shot on her Instagram: She’s clad in a full suit and “topping” a chiseled naked man on the kitchen counter while holding a martini. It was sexual. It was BDSM-lite. Most importantly, it was fucking hot. “If the queer audience had realized the movie was playing to them more specifically, they could have more passionately turned out and more fervently talked about it on the internet,” Crucchiola says.
Part of A Simple Favor’s recent surge in popularity is its memeability. Having two actresses beloved by teens lent the film some notoriety in stan communities. The film’s “timing and use of exaggeration were impeccable,” says Chloe Ross, who runs the aptly titled Kendrick stan Twitter account @asimpIefavor, where she still regularly tweets out GIFs of Kendrick as Stephanie Smothers.
Even though Bennett, Crucchiola and Grace only recently launched the podcast, the hosts managed to book Feig to talk about his film. “It was very clear to us that Paul is as big of a fanboy of this movie as we were,” Bennett says. Feig told Decider just as much in August: “In many ways, it’s my favorite movie I’ve made.”
By bridging camp with serious acting and a thrilling plot, A Simple Favor is both genre-filled and genreless. That’s what it makes it pop — but also hard to discuss in quippy reviews and passing conversations. “Feig said … he wanted so much more from the way that people thought [about the film] and gravitated to it,” Bennett says.
His influence is all over the film, down to the pantsuits Blake Lively wore. Oh, the pantsuits: They’ve taken on a dapper life of their own. While promoting the film (pulling stunts like following only Emily Nelsons on Instagram), Lively strictly wore every tux she could get her hands on. She dressed like she’d just stepped out of Brooks Brothers, which is fitting, since her inspiration was Feig himself. “Paul walks around in three-piece suits every day,” the film’s costume designer, Renée Ehrlich Kalfus, told Vanity Fair in 2018. “Blake and I said, ‘How about men’s suiting?’”
Fashion bloggers quickly caught on to Lively walking around in three-piece beige tuxes like she was the Joker. “When I first saw the movie and realized she was in costume as her character, it improved my enjoyment of the movie,” says Jessica Morgan, one half of the fashion blog Go Fug Yourself.
An actress dressing like her character is often a savvy red-carpet play to visually tie herself to a role. Angelina Jolie dressed in sleek black ball gowns for the Maleficent press tours, while the cast of Black Panther often wore crowns, ornate jewelry and other royal attire to evoke the court of Wakanda.
Few red carpet watchers expected a comedy film by the guy behind Spy to have such smart sartorial references. Then again, a lime-green pantsuit in New York August heat is bound to get you noticed. “We’re gonna cover Blake Lively regardless, but I do remember thinking, like, ‘God bless Blake Lively. She is giving me so much content right now,’” Morgan says.
The legacy of A Simple Favor will almost certainly grow as the film finds a second home on streaming platforms. While this may never get Lively her retroactive Oscar nomination, there’s still hope some good might come of the film’s growing adoration. “I’m very happy the Simple Favor standom grows more powerful every day. We will one day get A Simple Favor 2,” Christina Grace says.
Feig, if you’re reading this, stop. Now, go get to writing.