Paul Feig is a director best known for his comedies, specifically his female-starring comedies. After Bridesmaids, The Heat, Spy and others, he’s now taking a turn for the dark in the dramatic thriller A Simple Favor.
Based on the book by Darcey Bell, the movie follows Stephanie (Anna Kendrick), a mom with an online presence and following who one day befriends Emily (Blake Lively), who has kids at the same school Stephanie does. The two become friends, though Emily is strangely aloof and never reveals much about herself. When Emily goes missing, it’s up to Stephanie to piece together what few, confusing clues there are to find Emily and figure out who her friend really was.
The martini glass that graces the first poster, in connection with the “It all started with…” that’s completed by the title, hint that there’s something strange happening in the story. Specifically, that we’ll be following along as the consequences of some decision or action play out.
The second poster features a huge, colorful question mark at the bottom of which is the question “What happened to Emily?” Snippets of photos of the characters are shown in the colored segments of the punctuation, giving this a very 60s drama vibe reminiscent of Wait Until Dark and similar films.
A pair of character posters came next, with Emily and Stephanie facing toward each other when you put them together. Each is wearing a lovely dress while lifting a drink, standing in front of a gorgeous deco type design in the background.
The two women come together on the next poster, both posed elegantly against the same colorful triangles seen previously. It’s a bold, deco-inspired design that also kind of comes off like a photo from a 1978 Sears catalog, but that’s a small picking of nits.
What seems to be the theatrical poster came out in mid-August. Using a similar color palette of pastels and whites, the faces of the two lead actors are intermingled on what look like shards of broken glasses, hinting at the kind of identity-based drama the movie has in store for audiences. Another shows the two leads standing next to each other in the same colorful cut out seen elsewhere.
A series of “moving posters” released earlier this week showed Stephanie and Emily in what first appear to be classy, luxurious surroundings and situations, only to have something much darker revealed as the camera pans out.
One last poster came out just after that featuring side-by-side photos of Stephanie and Emily’s faces. Notably, this one includes costar Henry Golding standing between them, like a move by the studio to attempt to capitalize on his popularity in the wake of the hit Crazy Rich Asians.
Stephanie is explaining that Emily is basically her best friend as the first teaser trailer opens. We see hints that something has happened to upset Emily’s stylish, sophisticated world that leads to her going missing. That prompts Stephanie to set out to find her, uncovering things about Emily she had no idea existed along the way.
A second teaser sets up the same dynamic between the two women but makes it a bit more explicit that Emily has enlisted Stephanie’s help in some manner.
It’s all super-stylized, giving the impression of a hip, darkly-funny mystery. While Lively doesn’t get any dialogue, she looks like she breezes through every scene with a feeling of luxury while Kendrick’s Stephanie kinda sorta comes off as a bit of a stalker. At least she seems like someone who has convinced herself of a friendship with someone who’s well above her.
The final trailer provides a better picture of the story, beginning with how Stephanie and Emily first met and became friends. It becomes clear Emily has a penchant for mystery and doesn’t like to divulge anything about herself, which makes her disappearance all the more strange.
Online and Social
The various iterations of the key art cycle through a carousel on the front page of the official website, which asks the audience “Can you keep a secret?” There are links there to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles.
Most of what’s on the site is video, with all three trailers getting their own callout in the menu on the right side of the page. Also there are links to read the synopsis – including the cast and crew list – and view the posters.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
TV spots like this started running in mid-August, cutting the trailer down significantly but not changing the core message, that Emily is an enigma that has gone missing for some reason, leaving behind some very confused friends and family who realize they never really knew her. That included this commercial making it clear Emily has a dark side and does not want to let people inside her firmly-protected bubble.
Online ads used the key art while social ads used various versions of the trailer and TV spots.
Media and Publicity
One of the first press beats for the movie came when it was presented as part of Lionsgate’s upcoming slate of releases at CinemaCon, including the showing of a brief bit of footage.
Feig offered some management tips to Fast Company, drawing on his experience working with a wide array of some of Hollywood’s most talented actors and comedians over the years.
The pair of Lively and Kendrick embarked on a fashionable press tour that included a stop at MTV’s VMA ceremony. Kendrick later shared what it was like when she and Lively engaged in an on-screen kiss.
A fun little video was released showing Feig, Lively and Kendrick taking part in a fictional pitch meeting run by a couple studio heads who refuse to acknowledge women can be funny and who keep saying terribly sexist things to everyone in the room. It’s funny because it’s probably 100% accurate to many people’s experiences.
Fieg later talked more about why he decided to give comedy a break and make a dramatic thriller.
Kendrick and Lively also made various TV appearances on late night and early morning talk shows, including Kendrick talking about “mommy bloggers,” something her character is.
The combined charm of Kendrick and Lively is enough to get most people interested in the movie in theory. But this is a dark thriller that keeps reminding the audience that it is not what it seems at first to be. That could prove to be a tough message to sell when right now people seem more inclined to see the glitzy rom com stylings of Crazy Rich Asians or other escapist fare.
That being said, this is the most stylistically interesting, consistent and intriguing campaign I’ve seen in a while. From the first mysterious teasers to the wonderful series of colorful posters, it’s just great. The studio has certainly made an impression, and that can’t be easily discounted. It’s just not so clear that it actually drive people to head out to the theaters this weekend.
PICKING UP THE SPARE
Another TV spot that focuses on the positive reviews the movie already received from critics even before it was released.
Costume designer Renee Ehrlich Kalmus talks about the stunning styles sported by Lively’s character in the movie.