The Book vs. The Movie: “A Simple Favor”

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Brenna Flanagan, Contributing Writer

The simple favor turns out to be not so simple in this eagerly anticipated adaptation of Darcey Bell’s “A Simple Favor” starring two of the most beloved young actresses in Hollywood, Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick. The movie, directed by Paul Feig, is about the mysterious, elusive, high-class Emily and naïve vlogger-mom Stephanie as they start a friendship held together by their sons’ friendship, as well as secrets and martinis. Their friendship turns out to be nothing more than a cat and mouse game that turns the sweet Stephanie into a renegade detective when Emily suddenly goes missing and presumed dead.

While the movie leans on its laugh out loud jokes about incest and the novelty of Kendrick and Lively together on screen, the novel sticks to a more sinister and serious tone. The book relies only on its page-turning plot and horrific secrets to keep readers engaged. So, what are some key differences between the movie and book, and which came out on top?  


Warning: Spoilers Ahead!  


Stephanie is a mommy blogger instead of a millennial food vlogger

In the beginning scenes of the movie, we are introduced to Stephanie Smothers as she streams a video teaching her viewers a recipe. Stephanie is a widowed mother who vlogs crafts and recipes, but in the book, she is a blogger that writes about her experiences being a mother. It is evident that the movie wanted to make Stephanie more relevant to viewers in contrast to online bloggers which usually don’t reach such a large audience as vloggers. Plus, vlogging works better for the screen.  


The comedic commentary of the other parents is not present in the book

Those snarky parents that poke fun at Stephanie and provide comedic comments throughout the movie’s plot are just a thing of the screen. Funny faces Kelly McCormack, Aparna Nancherla, and Andrew Rannells are hilarious in their roles, but they are mainly there for comedic relief from the thriller plot, even though the movie has plenty of funny moments without the Greek chorus of parents. They remain unessential to the plot until Rannell’s character hits Blake Lively’s character, Emily, with his car after she sends police to his house where they catch him smoking marijuana.

In the book, none of this happens. The book maintains its focus on the point of views of Stephanie, Emily and Emily’s husband, Sean, to keep the book consistent and congruous with its thriller mystery genre.   


Emily’s behavior is not very concerning before she disappears 

Oh, Emily. Everyone knows something bad is going to happen to her because that’s the whole plot of the movie, but its further reaffirmed by her sketchy actions and (a little too much) love for a martini. In the movie, Emily makes comments like “Nicky would be better off if I just blew my brains out.” Then, Stephanie tries to take Emily’s picture for a school yearbook she’s making, and Emily aggressively tells her to delete it or she will “slap an injunction” on her yearbook. All these statements should be red flags to Stephanie or anyone listening.

However, Stephanie and Sean remain oblivious and naïve for much of the movie for a dramatic irony effect. This is contrasting to the book, where Emily doesn’t make such alarming statements, making her seem innocent in her disappearance, even though she is not. Emily’s character in the book would never set off alarm bells with her concerning statements because that would not fit into her plan to disappear.   


Sean was in on Emily’s plot to disappear  

In the movie, Emily’s doting husband, played by Henry Golding, is completely oblivious to his wife’s plot to disappear. Sean is a former writer and current professor, but in the book, he is an international businessman that received a call from Stephanie about his wife’s disappearance and seemed to brush it off. That’s because he knew about Emily’s plot to take out an insurance policy and fake her death in the book.

In the movie, Sean is sitting vigil at a relative’s hospital bed and immediately rushes home when Stephanie calls about his wife because he is genuinely worried. In the book, Emily begged Sean for months to help her disappear, so they could escape their lives and live on their money from the insurance claim. This inclusion gives more depth and secrecy to Sean’s character. In the movie, he gets played just like Stephanie, which makes their relationship more acceptable to viewers.


Sean and Stephanie were not in love, nor did they pretend to be

After “Emily’s” body is pulled from the water in the movie and she is presumed dead, the grieving Sean turns to Stephanie for comfort… in more ways than one. While their cringe-inducing relationship seems slightly inappropriate due to the short amount of time Sean takes before becoming involved with Stephanie, their relationship seems to be going somewhere as they recover from their loss. The two seem to be falling in love with each other, to the point where Sean is inspired to start writing again because Stephanie makes him feel “safe.”

In the book, things are a lot more complicated. Because the reader is aware Sean knew about Emily’s plot, Stephanie and Sean’s relationship is viewed as completely inappropriate. They move in together for practical reasons, like taking care of their children, but Stephanie keeps her house. Sean and Stephanie don’t act like they’re in love, they just share the loss of Emily and a bed.   


Stephanie is not a clever investigator that gets revenge on Emily

If you thought movie Stephanie is naïve, book Stephanie is much worse. The incident where Emily’s clothes reappear back into the closet Stephanie is trying to move into makes Stephanie go into a complete investigative mode. At this point, she realizes Emily may not actually be dead. Stephanie investigates Emily’s summer camp and visits Emily’s mother, where she finds out Emily was a twin. She interviews one of Emily’s past lovers, Diana, in which she learns Emily was not at all the normal person she pretended to be, which doesn’t happen in the book.

In the book, she just happens upon the secret twin when she visits Emily’s mother on a whim. This is prompted by a phone call Stephanie receives from the “dead” Emily in which Emily threatens to punish her if she doesn’t comply with her wishes. In the book, Stephanie is completely at the mercy of Emily, and Emily convinces Stephanie to turn against Sean and help her frame him for her disappearance. While in the movie, Stephanie does seem to turn against Sean after he admits that she’s just a distraction from his grief, she still ends up with the upper hand when she teams up with him in the end to frame Emily. A notable scene in the movie is when the two women meet up in the graveyard and drink martinis like they are equals and partners in crime, but that doesn’t happen in the book.


Secrets are taken seriously in the book

Here’s the big shock. In both the movie and the book, Stephanie confesses to Emily her darkest secret. When Stephanie was 18, she found out she had a half-brother who showed up to her dad’s funeral. She admitted to sleeping with him upon their first meeting and throughout their lives. On top of that, her son Miles is not her late husband’s child, it’s her brother’s. Both her husband and brother died in a car accident when her husband took off with her brother after it is implied he figured out Stephanie’s secret. While Emily still manipulates Stephanie with her secret in the movie, the book takes the situation more seriously and treats it as a very dark inclination that is Stephanie’s flaw.  


Emily’s past really wasn’t as horrific as the movie portrays it

Emily’s past is complicated and messy, something she keeps hidden from her husband and Stephanie in both the book and the movie. In the movie, Emily turned out to have two twins, one who was stillborn. Emily’s real name is Faith, her alive twin is Hope, and the stillborn twin was Charity. Faith/Emily and Hope went on the run after killing their father and eventually split up, only to reunite when Emily disappears and meets her sister at their old summer camp. Her drug-addled sister blackmails her for one million dollars, and if she doesn’t get the money she will come after Emily’s son. To prevent this, Emily drowns her sister in the camp’s lake and plays it off as her body to fake her own death.

The book was much simpler and more believable. Emily has only one twin which she tries to save from drug habits all her life. After getting called by her sister claiming she is going to kill herself, Emily rushes to their family cabin and says goodbye. Emily doesn’t directly kill her, but she doesn’t stop her drunk sister from drowning in the lake. Emily uses her sister’s dead body as her own. They were not murder suspects on the run and the book acknowledges that Emily’s lack of action is demented, while the movie tries to justify Hope’s murder as an act of necessity.  


The ending didn’t have as many twists and fake-outs

Where can one begin to understand the ending of this movie? Although the movie often bounces between humor and thrill, the viewers expect the ending to give closure to Emily’s disappearance and return. However, viewers are only left with the unrewarding payout of too many fake endings.

Emily returns to her home dressed as a 1950s housewife. One moment it seems like Emily’s on top when she’s framing Sean to get custody of their son. Then Stephanie appears and aims a gun at both Sean and Emily to try to get a confession out of Emily. She ends up shooting Sean, but it turns out Sean and Stephanie were working together, and Sean is wearing a bulletproof vest. Just when viewers think Emily has triumphed again, Stephanie pretends to give up and Emily tells how she framed Sean for her disappearance. Then, Stephanie reveals she caught her confession through a tiny body camera attached to her chest, and police sirens can be heard outside. Emily is taken into custody.

Instead of sticking to its thriller ending, the movie turned into a complete spoof-like finale. The movie has the hero come out on top, but the book gave Emily the upper hand in the end. Emily returns home to her son, Sean leaves the country to escape arrest and his crazy wife, and Stephanie returns to her home in the hopes of regaining her friendship with Emily. After investigators come to interview Emily on the murdered detective’s crime scene where they found her ring, she frames Stephanie by saying Sean gave that ring to Stephanie. In the close of the book, the only humor is the irony of Emily coming out on top again by framing the one person who is loyal to her. 


Book or Movie?   

If you want to be entertained by an off-putting mix of comedy and murder mystery starring two of Hollywood’s finest actresses, the movie will give you just that. While the plot can’t seem to pick whether it wants to be funny or suspenseful, and the ending payoff can be judged as slightly ridiculous, the movie cannot be accused of being unentertaining.

However, if you want a committed thriller that can truly be compared to novels like “Gone Girl” or “The Girl on the Train,” pick up a copy of Bell’s “A Simple Favor.” The book is unapologetically dark and will leave you hanging on to each character’s next confession.