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What happened to Emily?
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A Simple Favor is a 2018 black comedy mystery thriller directed by Paul Feig, based on the 2017 novel of the same name by Darcey Bell.

Emily Nelson (Blake Lively) is a wealthy young mother who suddenly disappears. When her best friend, mommy vlogger Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick), and husband Sean (Henry Golding) begin to investigate the case, secrets and betrayals soon abound. Andrew Rannells, Linda Cardellini, Jean Smart and Dustin Milligan also star.

Due to the many twists and turns in the film, many of the trope names are spoilers. Proceed with caution.


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A Simple Favor contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: The triplets's parents. Their mother was strict and emotionally abusive, and their father beat them. Unsurprisingly, this led to one sister developing a drug problem and the other becoming a pathological liar and manipulator.
  • Accidental Adultery: Sean dates Stephanie, which pisses Emily off. However, as Sean points out to her, he thought Emily was dead. She doesn't care. (Though he did move on rather quickly.)
  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: The end of the movie sees Emily getting a 20-year prison sentence and Stephanie starting a detective business. The book is much different; Emily frames both Sean and Stephanie for murder and flees to Europe with her son, becoming a Karma Houdini in the process.
  • Adaptational Intelligence: Stephanie is significantly smarter in the movie than the novel, which may be partly why the ending is radically different.
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  • Adaptational Name Change: Faith is Evelyn in the novel, and there is no Charity.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Faith is a much more antagonistic character in the film than the novel, where she never threatens to blackmail her sister and instead eventually decides to die because her sister needs to get out of debt and she doesn't have much to live for, and Emily sits back and allows her drunk, high sister to go swimming in the lake, knowing she very likely won't come back.
  • Adorkable: Stephanie plays this as straight as possible, given she’s played by Anna Kendrick.
  • Alliterative Name: Stephanie Smothers and Nicky Nelson.
  • Amateur Sleuth: After Emily is brought to justice, along with the massive success of her vlog, Stephaine becomes a part time crime solver, having resolved some 30 mysteries in the six months after Emily's arrest.
  • Ambiguously Bi:
    • While she's definitely into men, it's heavily implied that Stephanie is also into Emily, at least a little. Their meeting is framed as a Love at First Sight situation, and she becomes very devoted to Emily very quickly. She also doesn't seem to mind when Emily kisses her.
    • Emily, as well. She's implied to have had a relationship with Diana, is married to Sean, and kisses Stephanie when the latter cries over the death of her husband and brother.
  • Apologetic Attacker: Emily/Hope apologizes to Faith just before drowning her.
  • Apologizes a Lot: Stephanie can't help but apologize for every other thing she does, a habit Emily becomes determined to break her of.
  • Bait-and-Switch: The caretaker of Emily's mom blocks Stephanie's path as she's trying to leave while menacingly wielding a shotgun... only to say he wants to order a navy blue blazer in an extra large.
  • Batman Gambit: Stephanie and Sean pull an elaborate one on Emily making her think they underestimated her, making her think Stephanie fell for her lie about Sean being in love with her. She then shoots Sean to try and get Emily to confess out of sympathy. Emily doesn't buy it, obviously. Though this was a ruse to throw Emily off while she confessed, thinking they had no way to record her, while in fact Stephanie was live streaming the entire encounter via a Nanny Cam on her dress. The only thing the two probably didn't plan for was Sean getting shot in the shoulder for real by Emily.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: According to Emily, the only way to deal with her boss is to act like she's the one in charge, and go right at him. Stephanie later takes this advice to heart.
  • Bi the Way: Emily has been in a menage-a-trois with Sean and a female co-worker and was in at least one serious relationship with a woman, but it's suggested the former was a lie and the latter was a con job, more than anything else. She also drunkenly kisses Stephanie at one point, who doesn't seem too opposed to it.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Darren arrives in the nick of time to save Stephanie from being shot by Emily, by running Emily over with his car, with the police right behind him.
  • Brick Joke: When comparing his relationships with Emily and Stephanie, Sean says that he could never rest easy with Emily, but with Stephanie, he "sleeps like a log." Later, when she has to sneak out in the night, Stephanie rolls over and finds Sean is indeed out cold, snoring loudly. She lampshades it, muttering to herself, "Yep. Sleeping like a log..."
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Stephanie had an extended affair with her half-brother, whom she only met at their father's funeral when she was eighteen. This gets her called "brotherfucker" by Emily.
  • Call-Back:
    • Early on, whenever Stephanie apologizes, she corrects herself and tries to brush it off. In the late scene where Emily gets hit by a car, she apologizes again, before correcting herself and saying how Emily kept telling her not to do that.
    • The scene in which Sean tells Stephanie that she's going crazy for thinking Emily is still alive, he tells her to take a Xanax. Later, in another argument, she repeats the same thing back.
  • Camp Gay/The Dandy: Emily's fashion designer boss.
  • Cassandra Truth: Averted. Nicky tries to tell the adults that he saw his mother, but Sean dismisses it as Nicky trying to deal with his mother's "death". Stephanie at first thinks the same, but once Nicky gives her note he said his mother had given to him with the words "Brotherfucker", she begins to believe he might have a point. That was something she only told to Emily, and tells Sean that there's a possibility that Emily might not be dead. Sean tells her that she's crazy, as he saw her corpse, telling her to take a Xanax. Eventually, Emily shows up to a restaurant, confronting him about sleeping with Stephanie right after her funeral and manipulates him into saying he never loved Stephanie.
  • Catchphrase: Stephanie begins all her vlogs with, "Hi, moms!"
  • Character Tics: Stephanie tends to awkwardly prop one hand on her hip when trying to appear confident, and tends to have a vocal fry in her voice whenever she becomes nervous or uncomfortable.
  • Chekhov's Gag: The nude painting of Emily, a source of a few gags early on, ultimately leads Stephanie to its painter, which in turn leads to the truth about Emily.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Stephanie's vlog, which is at first a cute framing device, later becomes important as its viewers send her tips to help her find Emily. She also utilizes it to expose Emily as a murderer.
    • A literal one is the ivory-handle revolver Stephanie finds while cleaning Emily's closet. It is loaded with blanks and used to "shoot" Sean during the final confrontation of the film.
  • Consummate Liar: Emily lies constantly, both out of necessity and about little things that don't even matter. According to her mother, she's literally a pathological liar.
  • Cradling Your Kill: After drowning Faith, Emily takes her into her arms and holds her for a few moments.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Emily seems to be willingly capable of ... anything, really, especially if it serves her plans; it’s never quite clear if she’s in the totally amoral category, or just the casually manipulative.
  • Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat: Emily's plan was actually damn near perfect and would have gone off without a hitch if Emily hadn't decided to mess with Stephanie's head by letting her know that she was still alive. Though her affection for her child may also mess up her thinking.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: The epilogue isn't clear on whether Sean and Stephanie are still together or not. Stephanie's blurb only mentions that she is now "dating someone from the city," which may or may not be Sean.
  • Engineered Public Confession: Stephanie turns out to be recording everything and streaming it live on her vlog as Emily recounts her plan.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones:
    • For all her sins, it's clear Emily loves her son, even if she is a pretty lousy parent.
    • Even though she has to drown her sister due to the latter blackmailing her, it's clear she still loves her, as indicated by the way she cradles her in her arms before letting her sink in the water.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Darren doesn't like Stephanie much, but after Emily "dies," he goes out of his way to be nice to Stephanie at the funeral, and clearly feels genuinely sorry that Stephanie lost her friend. And in the end, he saves Stephanie's life — the two of them may not be close, but he's not about to let Emily kill her.
  • Evil Is Bigger: This trope comes naturally when you cast the 5’2” and petite Anna Kendrick as your hero and the 5’11” Blake Lively as the antagonist. The poster above even highlights this.
  • Exact Words: Emily's heart on her wrist tattoo is a "charity mark". As in an homage for her deceased triplet Charity, which her sister Faith also has.
  • Failed a Spot Check: In two cases, both Justified.
    • When "Emily" is found in the lake, she is curiously without the small mole on the right side of her face. The lack of such a distinguishing characteristic WOULD raise some suspicions... except for the fact that "Emily" also has the same wrist tattoo, the same DNA, and as far as everyone knows, she had no living family.
    • During the movie's climax, Emily fails to notice a car speeding towards her as she's about to shoot Stephanie. Also immediately lampshaded, as Darren immediately gloats that his hybrid's silent engine allowed him to do that.
  • Faking the Dead: Emily faked her own death, her sister acting as a handy stand-in.
  • Family Theme Naming: The twins Hope and Faith, and their dead sister Charity.
  • Fanservice:
    • Stephanie tries on a slinky black dress of Emily's that she gets stuck in due to a faulty zipper. We're then treated to the sight of Anna Kendrick's hiked-up breasts for the entire time she's being interviewed by the investigator. Then later she cuts the dress off with scissors, presumably so we got to see Anna Kendrick running around in her bra.
    • Emily strips down to skinny dip with her sister, though the camera pans away before she takes off her underwear.
    • Emily comforting Stephanie and whispering to her in a soft, husky voice before kissing her on the lips (which Stephanie seems to reciprocate.) Straight men and LGBT women in the audience, you're welcome.
  • Fan Disservice: The above-mentioned skinny-dipping scene would be more appealing, if it weren't also the same scene where Emily drowns her sister on-screen.
  • Feet-First Introduction: Emily makes a deliberately emphatic first entrance, emerging from a Porsche in killer heels; there's a particular emphasis on her feet because her face is initially screened by an umbrella. The movie trailer exploits the hell out of this moment, which comes about as close to a She's Got Legs scene as is possible when the character is wearing a pant suit. The trope is played with a little, though, in that it takes place in a rainstorm and the character is a mother picking her kid up from school; the audience is reminded that this is (for now) a comedy set in suburbia, albeit with some Fanservice.
  • Funny Background Event: During the segments that show Stephanie's vlog, you can actually see the comments her viewers are leaving, and some of them are quite amusing.
  • Foil: Stephanie and Emily. Though they both love their kids, Stephanie is a girl who grew up with a relatively normal childhood and adolescence, if you discount the "screwing your half-brother" part, and Emily grew up with Abusive Parents in a strict religious household, not to mention her burning down a part of her house with her sister, effectively killing their abusive father. She couldn't be with her beloved sister, as they would've been spotted by the police. And even when she went to the place where she and Hope agreed to meet, her sister left her. Stephanie is an overprotective mother who is actively involved in her son's school and a chirpy mainstay of the PTA, while Emily is said to never show up, is implied to get drunk even in front of her son, and gives a hilarious response to when Stephanie asks if Nicky has any dietary allergies.
    Emily: Just don't feed him shit he doesn't like.
  • Gaslighting: Subverted. It appears Sean might be doing this when he insists Stephanie couldn't have possibly gotten a phone call from the allegedly dead Emily, but it eventually becomes clear that he truly believes it, and has no clue Emily is alive. He's the one that identified "her" corpse, after all; thinking Stephanie is just breaking down under the strain of losing her best friend, and offering to help her find a therapist, is a perfectly reasonable reaction. Ironically in the novel he was gaslighting Stephanie because he and Emily planned the whole thing together.
  • Generation Xerox: Stephanie’s half-brother looks just like their father, which makes it weirder when they have sex.
  • Genre Roulette: Contains elements of black comedy, mystery, and thriller.
  • Glamorous Single Mother: Downplayed by Stephanie, a widow who doesn't have an income of her own, but seems to be doing well for herself. (She and her husband already owned their house when he died, so at least Stephanie and her son definitely have a roof over their heads.) It's revealed her husband had really good insurance, so there's enough for her and her son to live on... for now. Stephanie admits to Emily that she's done the math, and the money will run out in three years' time, hence why she's trying to turn her vlog into a business. After Emily's "death," Sean starts helping Stephanie out, even inviting her and Miles to move in despite it being so soon. In the epilogue, Stephanie has a detective business as well as a morning show, meaning this trope is now fully justified.
  • Good Parents: Stephanie is a loving and devoted mother to Miles, and seems to adore every aspect of being a parent. When Emily "dies," she takes on a motherly role towards Nicky, too — much to Emily's displeasure.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: Stephanie does this at first, even excusing her language for saying "crap".
  • Hands-Off Parenting: Emily, to the point that part of her getting closer to Stephanie is so she'd worry even less about Nicky.
  • Hidden Depths: Stephanie is revealed to have quite a talent for investigation and detective work. After the events of the film she opens a part time detective agency.
  • Housewife: It appears Stephanie was this before her husband died, and even now, she doesn't work outside the home, though she does consider being a single mom, plus running her vlog, to be a job in itself. She also fulfills the role when she starts dating Sean, taking care of the kids and fixing dinner while he works.
  • I Have Many Names: "Emily" was born Hope Claudia McLanden, and went by Claudia when she was with Diana.
  • Innocent Swearing: Nicky does this more often than not.
    Nicky: You're trying to be my new mom, fuck you!
  • Innocently Insensitive: Miles tries to comfort Nicky at Emily's funeral by telling him that it's okay because his mom is in Heaven now. It's a nice sentiment, and Miles only means well, but, being a little kid, he doesn't get why that doesn't make Nicky feel any better — in fact, Miles gets punched for his trouble.
  • Interclass Friendship: Emily is substantially more wealthy than Stephanie, though ultimately subverted since Emily and Sean have money issues.
  • Ironic Name: Hope and Faith's upbringing was neither hopeful nor faithful.
  • Light Feminine Dark Feminine: Sweet, maternal, earnest Stephanie is the light, while seductive, manipulative, elegant Emily is the dark. Unusually for the trope, Stephanie's a brunette, and Emily's a blonde.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Emily's "death".
  • Made of Iron: Emily is surprisingly tough. Even after being hit by a speeding car, sent flying through the air and crashing back into the ground, presumably breaking both legs... she still has enough strength to punch Darren in the balls and try to crawl away from the police.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: It's implied that Stephanie's half-brother could be the biological father of her child.
  • Manipulative Bitch: Emily, in spades.
  • Meaningful Name: Stephanie Smothers.
  • Mood Whiplash: We have a comedic scene of Stephanie celebrating as she dances around while moving her stuff into Emily's house... only for her to see all the things she threw out of the closet put right back where it was.
  • The Movie of the Book: Based on Darcey Bell's 2017 novel of the same name.
  • My Beloved Smother: Subverted with Stephanie, who has the tendencies (and a name reminiscent of) a smothering mother, but is more overbearing towards Emily (and later, Sean) than her actual child.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailers completely omit the film's comedic elements, making it seem like a straight mystery thriller.
  • Nice Girl: At the end of the day, Stephanie is just a woman who means well. She goes out of her way to comfort Emily's son during the funeral when she very well could've scolded Nicky for attacking her own son out of anger. When it seems like Emily isn't coming to pick up her son, and Stephanie later doesn't hear back from her for a long time, she goes out of her way again to search for Emily.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Stephanie disparagingly compares Emily's boss to a worse Tom Ford.
  • Not Helping Your Case: To browbeat Emily's boss into letting her go without calling the cops, Stephanie threatens to tell her viewers that he, among other things, uses Indonesian child laborers. His response?
    They are Vietnamese teenagers!
  • One Head Taller: Emily, played by the 5'10" Blake Lively, absolutely towers over Stephanie, played by the 5'2" Anna Kendrick. It serves to highlight the class difference between the two, the fact that Emily is usually wearing high heels only making it more pronounced.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Emily never apologizes for anything, and thinks Stephanie shouldn't, either. So when she apologizes to Faith just before killing her, we know she is not in a good place mentally.
  • Parental Substitute: Despite her insistence that she doesn't want to replace Emily, Stephanie does take on a very motherly role to Nicky. The poor kid probably needs it, after everything he goes through.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • It could be an act, but Emily does seem genuinely sympathetic when Stephanie reveals she blames herself for the death of her husband and brother. It'd make sense, considering Emily herself killed her father.
    • She also genuinely thanks Stephanie for picking Nicky up, and makes a point of telling her that she's a good person and a good friend. Since Emily hadn't yet killed Faith, and thus hadn't yet come up with the insurance fraud scheme, it could be that Emily was genuinely grateful. If you believe the above Pet the Dog moment was sincere, her telling Stephanie she's a good person also carries a lot more weight.
  • Phrase Catcher: People like to tell Stephanie what a saint she is a lot. Even she gets sick of hearing it eventually.
  • Public Secret Message: Stephanie does this twice, both times using her vlog.
    • The first time, she films a vlog about how she feels Emily "isn't truly gone," and how she feels close to her, "almost like a twin." She then comments that she's "gotta have faith." In other words — "Emily, I know you're alive, I know you're watching this, I know you have a triplet named Faith, and I am onto you." Emily is not pleased.
    • The second, she makes a vlog about gravestone tributes, and how it doesn't have to be flowers — anything the person loved will do. So, she's going to go to Emily's grave the next morning and make her favorite drink. Sure enough, Emily shows up at her own grave, and there's Stephanie with the martinis, waiting for her.
  • The Reveal: Emily's real name is Hope McLandon, and she killed her father alongside her sister, Faith, who she eventually killed as well.
  • Running Gag:
    • People assuming Stephanie is Emily and Sean's nanny.
    • Nicky's constant swearing.
    • "Brotherfucker."
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Gender-flipped by Emily, who frequently wears fancy tailored suits. Blake Lively revealed in an interview that she had to persuade the director to let her keep her shirt buttoned all the way up in the park scene, assuring him it'd still be sexy. Needless to say, she was right.
  • Siblings in Crime: Hope and Faith burned down their family home together, murdering their abusive father.
  • Sibling Murder: Emily drowns her sister in the lake after the latter tries to blackmail her.
  • Significant Wardrobe Shift:
    • Stephanie starts the movie dressing very conservatively and rather childishly. Under Emily's influence she starts to show more skin, and as she wises up to what's going on, she begins to incorporate darker colours into her outfits too.
    • Emily spends most of the film in elegant, sexy suits, and wears almost exclusively black. When screwing with Sean at the end, she dresses up in a bright blue dress that wouldn't look out of place on a 1950s Housewife.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Emily inserts at least one curse word in most every thing she says, usually either "fuck" or "shit". Her son Nicky seems to be taking after her.
  • Skinny Dipping: Faith decides to do it in the lake where she used to swim. Emily/Hope eventually follows... and drowns her there.
  • Spanner in the Works: If not for Stephanie digging around, Emily's plan would've worked perfectly.
  • Stepford Smiler: At first, Stephanie is a Perpetual Smiler (even while saying negative things), chipper and over-enthusiastic to the point where other parents are mocking her. Her discussions with Emily show she's a bit broken on the inside (which seems to have started as a way to cope with having her husband and half-brother dying in the same accident), and by the time Emily vanishes, Stephanie has stopped being happy all the time.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: implied between Beth and Sean.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: Or, the mom nobody likes. Not many parents, especially Darren and Sally, like Stephanie for her overbearing nature towards the school or her supposed annoying personality.
  • The Unfair Sex: Subverted. Emily planned to frame Sean for the life insurance scam by painting him as an abusive husband who forced her into it. It almost worked until her Engineered Public Confession.
  • The Un Reveal:
    • Miles' true father is never addressed.
    • It is never confirmed if Sean was actually having an affair with his T.A.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Darren, particularly after Emily 'dies'.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: That four million dollar live insurance policy Emily had on her? Turns out, she and Sean decided to get it (and one for him, too) because of something Stephanie said — specifically, that she thanks God for her husband's life insurance, since otherwise she wouldn't be able to take care of Miles after her husband died. This led to Emily deciding to get life insurance for herself and Sean, so there'd be money to take care of Nicky if something were to happen. Then, due to unrelated circumstances, Emily wound up killing her twin sister... and that got her to thinking...
  • Wham Shot:
    • Stephanie, after moving in with Sean, clears Emily's old clothes out of the closet to make room for her own. She returns with a box of her own stuff not even an hour later... and finds all of Emily's things put back, as if they were never touched.
    • The picture of a set of teenage twins... who look exactly like Emily.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Stephanie's mommy vlog has exploded in popularity, and she also has a detective business on the side. She eventually gets an offer for a TV show. Sean starts writing again and raises his son, and both are doing well. Emily's in prison and will be for twenty years, but she seems to be adjusting just fine.
  • Widow Woman: Stephanie's husband and brother died in a car crash a couple years before the film started.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Emily attempts to frame her husband by making him look like an abusive asshole, and herself like a battered victim. She almost pulls it off.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Emily's whole relationship with Diana was to use the latter as a way to pay off her college, which Diana feels deep contempt towards her for.
  • Your Cheating Heart:
    • Sean is implied to cheat on Emily with his TA, and later when he's with Stephanie he gets a little touchy with the same TA.
    • Stephanie, as well. It's implied she still had a relationship with her half brother while she was married, and that Miles might even be her half-brother's child.

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