“Some men lash out and leave marks, the black eyes and broken noses that send women to the emergency rooms and from there to the kindly social worker and the battered women’s shelter. But the real devils are the ones who hide the traces, who practice constant psychological abuse until the woman is all but destroyed.”
Directed by Paul Feig and based on Darcey Bell‘s 2017 book of the same name, A Simple Favor follows widow and stay-at-home Mommy blogger Stephanie (Anna Kendrick), who is asked a seemingly simple favour by her best friend, Emily (Blake Lively). Emily asks her to pick up her son after school one day, but when Emily never shows up to collect her son from Stephanie’s house, Stephanie knows that something is terribly wrong – Emily would never leave Nicky, no matter what the police say. Terrified, Emily reaches out to Emily’s husband, Sean (Henry Golding), offering emotional support. It’s the least she can do for her best friend. But then, she and Sean receive shocking news: Emily is dead. As Stephanie seeks to uncover the truth, she must dig deeper into Emily’s secret past. Things aren’t as simple as she once thought.
The following post is a review of the film adaptation in comparison to the book. You can read my review of the book on its own here.
Having read the book beforehand, I knew that the thriller side of this story wasn’t particularly worth looking forward to, but that there were some likeable qualities to enjoy. But what Paul Feig and screenwriter Jessica Sharzer have done with adapting this story is a great effort, making a somewhat unoriginal mystery thriller more interesting.
Adding two strong female lead actors definitely makes a big impact, and they are certainly the biggest reasons to be watching this, but it is thanks to Feig and Sharzer that their characters are likeable at all, as it is their changes to the story that have helped to develop their characters better.
The film adaptation is very different compared to the book, although most of these changes don’t affect the story negatively. The film is linear in its storytelling, whereas the different perspectives in the book mean that the story goes back and forth a little, only showing us the real side to Emily’s character partway through. But by making Emily come across as a bitch from the beginning, we almost cheer on her sassiness as she walks all over everyone. The adaptation also sees Stephanie’s character step up in the end and gain confidence throughout, whereas she is pushover from start to finish in the book, making it difficult to relate to her in any way.
However, there are some parts of the story that the film misses out on. Firstly, the book is told in three sections, allowing us to see the story from three different perspectives: Stephanie’s, Emily’s, and Sean’s. Whilst this doesn’t change things in terms of the story too much, this narrative technique does allow for us to get to know these characters better, especially in regards to their feelings around parenthood. This was the only theme that really stood out for me in the book, seeing these very different characters talk about ‘honest parenting’ so openly. Yet the film doesn’t manage to capture any of this side to the story, and instead focuses on the mystery.
What the adaptation does do successfully, though, is to completely change the tone of the story. The film is a lot more in your face. It’s crude, it’s sexy, and it’s full of attitude. There’s more swearing, abruptness, and references to sex, whereas the book doesn’t have this edge to it. This dark comedy style much better suits the thriller side to this story, making it stand out rather than merely just another female-led thriller to add to the shelf.
This shift in tone is done through many small alterations throughout – things like changing the prescription drugs that Emily takes in the book to heroin in the film – but most notably, it is the twists and deaths which are made much more shocking. The ending, especially, will leave you laughing rather than yawning, as this film is now being described as “bonkers” rather than “predictable”.
Differences From The Book:
Again, there are many differences from the book compared to the film. There aren’t many that alter the story too drastically or negatively, but there’s certainly a lot to discuss. So, I will try my best to get through all of these alterations in as linear a way as possible:
- Part one of the book is told through Stephanie’s blog posts. In the film, she makes vlogs, instead.
- In the book, the other parents at school aren’t really mentioned. In the film, they are very judgy and used for comical effect.
- In the book, the boys are closer friends. They often film skits on their phones together. In the film, they don’t seem like they’ve been friends for long or that they hang out much.
- In the book, Stephanie talks about her and Emily doing things together after school with the boys, like playing golf and eating burgers. In the film, she says that they haven’t been friends for long and their friendship mostly consists of them ignoring the boys and drinking.
- In the book, Nicky has also stayed over at Stephanie’s house a few times before, but he has never stayed over in the film before because they aren’t that good friends.
- In the book, both mothers check on the boys whilst they are playing, whereas Emily isn’t bothered about Nicky in the film and leaves him to his own devices.
- In the book, Emily asks Stephanie to come over to her house. In the film, Nicky forces Emily to let Miles come over.
- In the book, Emily lets Stephanie keep an umbrella which she says is a one-off design. In the film, this is nodded at but her lies aren’t hinted at so early on.
- In the book, Emily loves reading detective thrillers and often refers to them. She even makes Stephanie watch Strangers On A Train. In the film, she has no such interests and all they seem to do is drink.
- In the book, Emily also talks about the film, Peeping Tom, which she made Sean watch as a test on one of their first dates. Again, she has no such interests in the film.
- In the film, Emily often swears and makes crude jokes. She is generally really standoffish. She comes across as much friendlier in the book, at the start at least, and definitely doesn’t let Miles see this side to her.
- In the book, it is mentioned that Emily probably couldn’t have any more children because she had a difficult birth with Nicky. This isn’t mentioned in the film. Instead, it seems that Emily doesn’t really want Nicky, let alone another child.
- In the film, Stephanie talks about an “Oopsy” jar and is uncomfortable with Emily’s swearing. She’s not so prudish in the book.
- In the book, Emily has a nanny, Alison. In the film, Emily says that she can’t find a decent one in town.
- In the book, Emily has a birthmark on her face. In the film, it is a mole.
- In the book, Emily’s tattoo is a crown of thorns. In the film, it is a ring of fire with a charity symbol.
- In the book, Stephanie sees a picture of twins at Emily’s house. Emily says that it’s by a famous artist. In the film, the painting is a naked portrait of Emily, which shows her dominance more.
- In the film, Sean walks in during Emily and Stephanie’s first get-together. In the book, Stephanie doesn’t meet Sean until after Emily goes missing.
- In the book, Stephanie doesn’t really like Sean at first. In the film, she is a big fan of his work.
- In the film, Sean is an author. In the book, he works for an investment firm.
- In the book, Emily criticises Sean saying that he’s always at work and that she’s always looking after Nicky. She doesn’t look after Nicky so much in the film and only complains about their money issues.
- In the film, Emily says that she and Sean had a threesome. Sean later says that this was not true and that Emily is a pathological liar. There is no mention of this in the book.
- In the film, they often drink martinis. In the book, they mostly drink wine.
- In the film, Emily forces Stephanie to drink more to get her talking. In the book, Stephanie refuses to drink too much as she has to drive. Emily is much less manipulative in the book.
- In the film, Stephanie is reluctant to tell the truth about her affair, but Emily gets the truth out of her. In the book, she’s more straightforward about it.
- In the book, Stephanie tells Emily about the affair at a carnival, making a reference to Strangers On a Train. In the film, the two are getting drunk at Emily’s house.
- Sean also knows about the affair in the book, but he makes no acknowledgement of it in the film.
- In the book, Stephanie and Chris have sex in a motel the day after their dad’s funeral. They have sex often and their affair remains constant throughout her marriage to Davis. In the film, they have sex in the spare room and it seems like only once. Stephanie also has another boyfriend at this time but he is not mentioned in the film, nor does the affair seem to continue, although they obviously remain close.
- In the book, we get to know Davis a lot more through Stephanie’s narrative as she emphasises how much she loved him. He seems nicer in the book, but he only seems angry and threatening in the film.
- In the film, Stephanie makes Emily a friendship bracelet. She does not in the book.
- In the book, Stephanie has a picture of them all together. In the film, Emily makes Stephanie delete a photograph that she takes of her.
- In the film, Emily asks for “a simple favour” to refer to the title. She doesn’t in the book, but Stephanie does refer to it as this later on.
- In the book, Emily’s voicemail is kind. In the film, she is rude.
- In the book, a teacher gives Stephanie Sean’s number. In the film, she gets it from a school directory.
- In the book, Sean says that Emily is away for a few days. In the film, he instantly knows that something is wrong.
- In the book, he is in London for business. In the film, his mum has broken her hip.
- In the book, their nanny says that Emily told her about Nicky sleeping over at Stephanie’s. Alison doesn’t exist in the film so they don’t have this conversation.
- In the book, Emily also has a house cleaner who says that she has been gone for four days. Emily doesn’t have a cleaner in the film, either, since they have too many money troubles.
- In the book, Emily tells Stephanie that her mum lives in Detroit. Stephanie assumes that they are estranged. In the film, Emily doesn’t talk about her family, but Sean tells the police that she doesn’t have any family and that her parents are dead.
- In the book, Sean knows that Emily’s mother has dementia. In the film, we don’t know exactly what is wrong with her but we later see her rearranging her wig.
- In the book, Stephanie is invited to the police station and is interviewed by a woman. In the film, Sean and Stephanie both talk to two male police.
- In the book, there’s a storm and Sean stays over at Stephanie’s house. She then masturbates in her bed. In the film, Sean stays over because it is too late for taxis to be running, and Emily doesn’t masturbate.
- In the book, Stephanie starts eating meat for Sean. There is no reference to this in the film.
- In the book, they watch more TV series together such as Breaking Bad. They aren’t as close in the film.
- In the book, they can’t ID Emily’s body but they see that she is wearing her engagement ring. In the film, we see the body and it is obviously her. They also don’t believe that it’s suicide in the book, but they do in the film.
- In the book, they say that Emily has taken prescription drugs. In the film, it is heroin.
- In the book, Sean and Nicky scatter their mother’s ashes alone. In the film, Stephanie and Miles go to the funeral and wake with them. The boys also have a fight, but they don’t in the book.
- In the book, Nicky is seeing a therapist. In the film, Stephanie is acting like his therapist.
- In the book, Nicky says that Stephanie has cooked his mum for tea. In the film, he blames her for his mother’s death.
- In the film, Stephanie and Sean have sex for the first time after the funeral. They do this later on in the book.
- When Stephanie tries on Emily’s clothes in the book, she masturbates again. In the film, she is interrupted by a male detective. She isn’t investigated again in the book.
- In the book, the life insurance claim is for two million. It is for four million in the film.
- In the film, Stephanie is told about the money by the detective. In the book, we don’t know how she finds out about it, but she writes about it in her blog and it isn’t made out to be as much of a big deal.
- In the film, Sean has an assistant at work and it is implied that something is going on with them. This isn’t in the book.
- In the book, Nicky only tells Stephanie that he has seen his mum. He tells both Stephanie and Sean during dinner in the film.
- In the book, when Stephanie and Miles make a promise, they reference a book called “Where Is Buster Bunny?” She asks him, “Was it really Emily?” There is no reference to this in the film.
- In the book, Stephanie smells Emily’s perfume in her house. In the film, she finds the friendship bracelet that she made for her and smells Emily’s perfume all at Sean’s house.
- In the book, Stephanie searches through Sean’s things and finds Emily’s engagement ring. In the film, we don’t know that he has been given it back after finding the body and there is no more references to it.
- In the film, Stephanie clears out Emily’s clothes to later find that they have been put back out. This isn’t in the book.
- In the book, Stephanie starts to forget about the possibility of Emily being alive when she gets the phone call from her. In the film, Stephanie constantly senses that she is being watched.
- In the book, Emily rings Stephanie from the carnival where Stephanie told her all about Chris. She even has the confession on a recording. In the film, she calls from the back of the garden where she has been watching Stephanie. Instead of the recording, she then sends Stephanie a photograph of her family saying “Brother Fucker”.
- In the book, Stephanie doesn’t tell Sean about the phone calls. She does in the film.
- In the book, Sean is more sympathetic, although he does later say that he thought she was delusional. In the film, he outright treats Emily like she’s crazy.
- In the book, Emily’s blog post is about the dead watching over us, which she writes after the phone call with Emily. It is a letter to Emily in the afterlife, calling her out. In the film, Stephanie makes a vlog about living on in the afterlife, talking to Emily as if she is out there, posting this before she receives the phone call.
- In the book, Stephanie thinks that this is all punishment for her affair with Chris. The affair isn’t mentioned as much in the film.
- In the book, Davis’ and Chris’ car hits a tree. In the film, they hit the central reservation on a busy road. It also seems like Davis swerved on purpose after forcing Chris to go for a drive with him. In the book, Stephanie tells them to go for a drive together and it seems like an accident.
- In the book, Stephanie asks Emily to look at Miles to see if she can see the resemblance to him and the picture of Chris, implying that he is Miles’ real father. In the film, Stephanie doesn’t mention this possibility, only that they slept together.
- In the film, Emily kisses Stephanie. This isn’t in the film, but Stephanie often says how much she loves her.
- Part 2 of the book is narrated by Emily. She talks more about her childhood, her alcoholic mother, and about how she met Sean and eloped in Vegas. She also talks about the love she felt for Nicky when he was born. We don’t get to know her so personally in the film, or at least not in such a sentimental way.
- It is only now in the book that we see a more manipulative side to her, whereas this is obvious throughout the film.
- In the book, she tells Sean that, “I will never be dead. No matter what you hear.” She explains their plan to defraud Sean’s firm’s insurance company. They agreed to stay out of touch for 6 months and even got fake passports. She even visits Sean before she goes ‘missing’ and says that this is it. None of this in the film and the plan isn’t explained so well.
- In the book, Emily explains that Sean hated work and that she wanted to see more of Nicky. In the film, she just wanted more money because they were near bankruptcy and doesn’t care about Nicky as much.
- In the book, Stephanie was always a part of their plan, but this isn’t explained in the film, either.
- In the film, Stephanie visits Emily’s workplace to find out more about her and finds a threatening flyer. In the book, she doesn’t do this and only snoops around the house. She takes her time with it and says that she will find out one interesting thing about Emily a day.
- In the film, Stephanie also visits the artist of Emily’s portrait. This painting and therefore the artist do not exist in the book.
- In the book, Stephanie finds some birthday cards from Emily’s mum. In the film, Steph finds clues to Emily’s past from the artist and then from some cabin photos.
- In the book, Emily talks about her family’s cabin and Sean knows about it. In the film, there is no mention of it at the start and it’s a summer camp rather than family-owned.
- In the book, Stephanie gets Emily’s mum’s number by searching the address from the birthday cards. She talks to her mum openly and says that she is a friend of her daughters. In the film, Stephanie pretends to be from the camp.
- In the book, Stephanie is honest about who she is, plans a visit, and shows Emily’s mother photos of her grandchild, Nicky. In the film, she just turns up, pretending to be a cleaner.
- In the film, Emily’s mother’s assistant is a man called Bruce. In the book, it is a woman called Bernice. Bruce is just for comic value in the film, but in the book, Bernice talks to the police and talks to Stephanie about her suspicions of Emily not really being dead.
- In the book, Emily’s mum shows Stephanie photo albums of when Emily was younger. This is where Stephanie sees that Emily is a twin. In the film, Stephanie sees the photos throughout the house and then asks Emily’s mother about her daughters, still pretending not to know her.
- In the film, Stephanie says that she is from the insurance company and asks Emily’s mother about a fire in the west wing. She then looks through old newspaper clippings that say the twins vanished after a house fire. There wasn’t a fire in the book.
- In the book, Emily’s sister is called Evelyn. In the film, Emily is actually called Faith and her sister is called Hope. Emily also later tells Stephanie that they were actually triplets, but that Faith and Hope believe they killed their sister, Charity, in the womb. There is no mention of a third sibling in the book.
- In both the book and film, Stephanie writes/vlogs about visiting Emily’s mum. In the film, Stephanie makes a reference to this change in name by saying, “You gotta have Faith”.
- In the book, Sean tells Stephanie that Emily was abused by her grandfather and that he knew about her drug-taking and rehab. In the film, he knows nothing about her past and it is the father who is the abusive one. They burn down the west wing to kill him and then run away.
- In the book, the sisters get their tattoos after a fight about Emily finding her sister’s drug kit. In the film, they get tattoos to say goodbye to each other after killing their father, with an additional tattoo for Charity.
- Part 3 of the book is narrated slightly by Sean who reveals more about his relationship with Emily, saying that he wanted to divorce her after finding out that she stole his mum’s ring, but that she fell pregnant from their trip the bathroom on the aeroplane home. We don’t see much of his perspective in the film.
- In the book, Emily texts Sean saying, “Peeping Tom”, in order to get him to the restaurant. Again, there is no reference to this film in the film. Instead, Emily books the lunch by pretending to set up a business meeting for Sean.
- In the film, Emily has a gun at the table and it is implied that they have sex in the toilet. This isn’t in the book.
- In the book, Sean wants Emily back. He tells her how much he doesn’t love Stephanie, that he never cared about her, and that he just liked that she wasn’t complicated. In the film, he’s angrier at Emily but he still says that Stephanie means nothing to him.
- In the book, a man from Allied Insurance Company comes to the house to speak to Sean. He talks about Emily’s autopsy and says that he finds it hard to believe that Sean didn’t realise that she was missing a front tooth. He goes on to say that he thinks it’s Emily’s sister who Sean doesn’t know exists. In the film, Stephanie rings the insurance company up to mess up Sean’s insurance claim. A woman visits the house and they confront Sean when he gets home.
- In the book, Stephanie fantasies about Sean and Emily going to jail and her being left to look after Nicky. This isn’t mentioned in the film.
- In the film, Stephanie vlogs about tombstone messages and asks Emily to meet her at her gravestone. This is where Emily explains everything to her. In the book, Emily calls Stephanie for help and is much nicer. She also promises to give Stephanie the truth at this point, but she still lies about everything.
- In the book, Emily says that her sister killed herself and that she didn’t know how to tell people. She goes on to say that Sean had met her sister loads of times, saying that he was in the cabin when she died. In a similar way in the film, Emily tells Stephanie that it was all Sean’s idea to use her sister’s death to benefit them.
- In the book, Evelyn is going to the cabin to kill herself and asks Emily to meet her there. In the film, Hope wants money and says that she is going to tell the police about them killing their dad.
- In the book, Evelyn has pills with her and wants them both to kill themselves. In the end, Evelyn agrees to be a part of Emily’s plan but changes her mind, so Emily gets her drunk. Evelyn then goes for a swim and drowns. In the film, Emily’s narration to Stephanie says that Hope killed herself, but we then see Emily kill her in the lake.
- In the book, Emily needs Stephanie’s help once more. She says that she’s being followed by a man and asks Stephanie to meet her and to bring her engagement ring and Sean’s hairbrush. They then go to meet the insurance guy who is ruining Emily’s plans, but Emily has killed him with a hypodermic needle. Emily drives his car and Stephanie follows in hers. Emily then puts Sean’s hair in the car and together, they push the car over a ridge. “Mom power”. In the film, nothing goes any further with the insurance worker than Stephanie’s first meeting with her, so Emily and Stephanie don’t kill her.
- In the book, Stephanie is still so gullible and Emily easily gets her back on her side. Whilst it also appears that Stephanie believes Emily’s lies in the film, Stephanie is a much more powerful and confident character now. Instead, she feels much more betrayed and doesn’t put up with either of their lies.
- In the book, Emily goes for drinks with Dennis Nylon and asks for a domestic lawyer. This isn’t in the film.
- In the book, Emily convinces Stephanie that Sean has been abusing her. In the film, it isn’t said so outright but we see Emily hit herself in the face with a wrench to get Sean arrested.
- In the film, a news report says that an abusive Sean forced Emily to fake her own death. In the book, Stephanie writes a blog post exposing Sean’s ‘actions’ which goes viral. They then threaten to go to the police, but they don’t
- In the book, Emily and Stephanie are then both waiting for Sean at his house. In the film, Sean goes home to find Emily waiting for her. Stephanie then turns up afterwards.
- In the book, Stephanie is on Emily’s side. In the film, Stephanie is on Sean’s side and they are working together with the police. Stephanie has recorded the scenes in the house live on her blog to capture Emily’s confessions about killing her father and sister. In the book, she hasn’t killed her father or sister, only the insurance guy.
- In the book, Sean stays in a hotel and goes back to work. He then gets a job in Ireland. Emily is pleased with how things have worked out and that she has Nicky. In the film, she wants custody of Nicky but it doesn’t come across in the same way.
- The book ends with the police finding the insurance guy’s car with Emily’s ring in it. It is implied that Stephanie planted it, but Emily says that Sean had given it to Stephanie. She then decides that it’s time to pack and leave. The film, instead, ends with Emily getting ran over and then arrested, and we later see her ‘adjusting’ to life in prison.
Whilst there’s a lot that’s different about the film compared to the book, the story is handled much better in this film adaptation, making the characters stronger, more likeable, and their outcomes more believable. It is much more shocking and in your face, turning an average book into a story with an edge.
The performances from Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively alone make this a film worth watching, but I would recommend the book if you’re a mother who reads ‘mummy blogs’ and follows ‘mummy influencers’, as there is some great satire and some positive home truths written around this culture.