Home Video Hovel: Favor, by Craig Schroeder
When someone asks “can you do me a favor?” it’s usually followed by a benign request to turn the TV down, pick up dinner on the way home, or, worst case scenario, help someone move out of their second floor apartment. But in the case of Favor, the new thriller from writer-director Paul Osborne, the titular request is much more insidious. Favor opens with Kip (Blayne Weaver)–who the film will try to convince you is a relatable character despite the fact that he is very much not, if only because he stores red wine in the refrigerator–asking his oldest friend Marvin (Patrick Day) to do him a solid: help him dispose the body of a young waitress he was schtupping without his wife’s knowledge. The young woman’s cause of death: unclear, though I believe the film posits she bumped her head on a dresser. Marvin agrees, mostly because there wouldn’t be a movie if he didn’t, and proceeds to use the selfless favor he granted Kip as blackmail to improve his love life and professional shortcomings.
If you watch Favor looking for a character to relate to or root for, I wish you luck. Ostensibly, Kip is the film’s hero–or, if you jest, the anti-hero, but in the narrative put forth he is our hero nonetheless–and he is about as relatable as a lamprey. He works for an “international company” so nondescript and generic it may as well just be called “The Business Company Inc.” Blayne Weaver is stiff and wooden as Kip, and any subtext or subtlety he is asked to convey is presented with a knowing wink and a smile (at one point, quite literally). Marvin, the film’s villainous figure, is much more accessible, at least at the start of the film. Marvin is down on his luck after having been displaced by the economic crisis and is just looking for a friend. When the film opens, Marvin’s motivation seems to come from a desperate need for intimacy and approval; he’s such a loner he will help a scumbag hide a body if it means companionship. However, when his motivations become more tangible (money, sex, etc.) he becomes a much less compelling character. But despite the character’s shortcomings, Patrick Day, who plays Marvin, seems to be the only one in the film who recognizes the kind (and caliber) of film he’s in, making particularly dry scenes somewhat more watchable.
Favor is a film more about plot contrivances and lame devices than anything else. For example: the very premise of the film. Why would a man who truly wants to keep his mistress’s death a secret, seek the help of a big, goofy asshole like Marvin? It seems hiding a body could easily be a one-man job but, for whatever reason, Kip immediately enlists the assistance of the world’s worst confidant. In Spring Breakers, Harmony Korrine uses dialogue repetition and non-sequiturs to great effect; in Favor, Paul Osborne takes this same technique, removes all of the subtlety and nuance from it and proceeds to rhythmically beat you over the head with it like Hannibal Lecter with a police baton. At one point, one of Kip’s co-workers tell him “you could sell anything to anyone”; this line is sent-up repeatedly every time Kip tells a lie that the film deems particularly sly. Get it?<
Favor is not particularly kind to women, often adopting some of the mantras and philosophies of the so-called “Men’s Rights Movement”, which has come under intense scrutiny in the past few months following the Santa Barbara shooting and the subsequent #YesAllWomen Twitter campaign. Marvin, a disillusioned though not necessarily disturbed man, repeatedly tells Kip that he deserves affection. And it’s not just Marvin; Kip’s reasoning for hiding the dead girl’s body is that his wife just wouldn’t understand and it would destroy his life and marriage. As well it should, but Kip and the film assert that if Claire wasn’t such a nagging bitch, one who would be okay with a cheating (possibly murderous) husband, then Kip could just confess to the police rather than hide the body. A police detective, also a woman, is written as shrill and pestering, constantly bothering Kip and impeding him from continuing to be a piece of shit. Her fervor for her job and her facade as a “tough cop” are presented comedically, as if the viewer is meant to be doubled-over at the very idea of a stern woman taking her job seriously.
It seems Favor takes a lot of its cues from the chauvinistic ideas put forth in Neil Strauss’s aggressively slimy The Game, which sees women as puzzles and obstacles rather than human beings. And it would be easier to see these misogynistic tendencies as flaws of the characters and not of the film, if the film wasn’t so eager to use the women in the story as plot devices rather than characters. It’s accepted that Kip must hide the body because his wife won’t cut him any slack, you know, for cheating on her and being implicit in another human’s death. The dead girl, Abigail, is nothing except a plot device (save for one scene, which is the best in the film but sadly renders zero implications to the rest of the story). One woman is cast for the sole purpose of fawning over Kip and another woman’s pregnancy is used less for character development and more as a bargaining chip for the men in the film.
“A friend helps you move, a good friend helps you move a body” says the tagline for Favor, but there’s nothing about Kip and Marvin to suggest they were ever friends, except for the film’s insistence that they are. And therein lies Favor’s downfall, Osborne and company are unable to convince the viewer that the universe, characters and relationships they have created are real. Nothing feels lived in. Character choices don’t make sense. The hotels, offices and homes look like scouted out locations. The camera clumsily stumbles through the film and the climatic scenes are rigid and inert. Favor has a simple and interesting premise, but all of the connective tissue has been shredded and torn by a bunch of folks who just don’t seem committed to the film they are making.