The Reelist is a column featuring Kristen Page-Kirby’s musings on movies. For Washington Post film critic Sonia Rao’s review of “A Simple Favor,” click here.
I was about 40 minutes into “A Simple Favor” when I solved the mystery: Henry Golding should be the next James Bond.
But first, “A Simple Favor.” Stay-at-home single mom Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) fills her time with classroom volunteering, making perfect lunches and producing a barely watched vlog (she also does, you know, parenting). She meets and is immediately enamored with Emily (Blake Lively), the mom of one of her son’s classmates who is as far as it’s possible to be from Stephanie — a high-powered executive who dines on dry martinis and not much else, who curses in front of her kid and carouses in the afternoon. The differences extend (hilariously) down to Kendrick’s and Lively’s physical appearances; when they walk together it looks like an enthusiastic, adorable corgi trying to keep up with an aloof, loping greyhound.
After Emily goes mysteriously missing, things get bananas — up to and including Stephanie beginning an affair with Emily’s husband, Sean (Golding). It’s like “Gone Girl,” but with more of a Pinterest sensibility. It doesn’t quite work; the biggest impact of the film is proving that Kendrick and Lively should definitely do a buddy comedy. Ideally that movie also would be directed by Paul Feig, whose deft comic touch doesn’t extend into the tenser, more serious moments of “A Simple Favor.” It tries to be a dark comedy, but the comedy often isn’t dark enough and many of the dark moments aren’t funny enough.
The one person who balances it all? Henry Golding.
I have an irrational fondness for the Bond films, mostly because I have an irrational fondness for my husband, who loves them. Fondness or no, though, many of the films — and not only the early ones — are incredibly problematic with regard to race and gender. And by “incredibly problematic,” I mean they are racist and sexist. The Daniel Craig films, starting with “Casino Royale,” have largely escaped (or explicitly rejected) that legacy, but they’ve also lost a lot of the fun and the camp found in the early ones. That’s not to say they’re bad; I think “Skyfall,” beyond being one of the best films of 2012, is the greatest Bond film ever. Craig’s upcoming fifth Bond film is assumed to be his last; the next Bond can and should bring back the fun while leaving the problems behind.
Henry Golding can do that. In “Crazy Rich Asians,” he was suave and charming and funny and kind. In “A Simple Favor” — in which his character might or might not have had something to do with his wife’s disappearance — he’s still charming, but with a bit of darkness and so much sexiness. So much. At one point he murmurs, “We should get naked,” and you cannot tell me I was the only person in the theater whose brain immediately said, “YEAH WE SHOULD.”
Golding is having a moment with “Crazy Rich Asians” and “A Simple Favor,” and while Bond films typically rely on more established actors, it’s time to make them less typical anyway.
With his role in “A Simple Favor,” Golding will surprise many with his skillful shifting between tender and terrifying. He’s charismatic, he’s got an English accent and, since he’s Asian, he’d drive the “Bond has to be white!” racists NUTS. Give the man a Walther PPK, get him into the seat of an Aston Martin, and let him drive the Bond franchise into the future.