The Favor

1994, R, 97 min. Directed by Donald Petrie. Starring Harley Jane Kozak, Elizabeth McGovern, Bill Pullman, Brad Pitt, Larry Miller, Ken Wahl.

REVIEWED By Robert Faires, Fri., May 6, 1994

A day is twenty-four hours, an hour is sixty minutes, a minute is sixty seconds. The big passages in life are just collections of smaller passages, little incidents, the minutiae that occupy so much of our attention that we sometimes miss the larger event. Still, those tiny moments can be treasures, and the pleasures in this comedy come from its smaller aspects: conversations between husbands and wives, between friends, recognition of routines, of jobs, of parental duties. Writers Sara Pariott & Josann McGibbon and director Donald Petrie know how life is lived -- tending to details -- and have packed the film with them, such that it almost works as a slice of suburban life. Of course, who in Hollywood would bankroll such a film? So, the writers have devised a sizable, sexy engine to drive this, the titular “favor.” And it is big: Kathy (Kozak), facing a high school reunion and haunted by dreams of the hunky boyfriend she never went all the way with, asks her best friend Emily (McGovern) to spend a night with the guy and see what she missed. Not a thing you'd ask just any pal, granted. But the favor, like all the comic complications that result -- Kathy's regret for asking the favor, Emily's bliss upon going through with it, Kathy's jealousy, Emily's boyfriend's jealousy, Kathy's husband's suspicion of infidelity, Kathy's showdown with her old beau (Wahl) -- is handled in a low-key fashion, as if it's but one more thread in the tapestry. We don't see McGovern and Wahl locked in passion, we only see her telling Kozak about it. So the centerpiece of the movie is played for, at best, a few chuckles. Which leaves us the many smaller bits played for smiles: a parent's concern over the color of birthday party punch, Kathy's nap on a dryer after popping a Valium, a pre-teen girl in Brownie uniform struggling to open a can of tomatoes, a longtime wife and husband conversing from separate rooms, clipped chatter between two friends mad at each other. They're all small but all true. The players all are charming, full of sweet, swift shifts of expression that betray all the affection, anxiety, and angst that pass over us in a minute's time any day -- most days -- of our lives.

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The Favor, Donald Petrie, Harley Jane Kozak, Elizabeth McGovern, Bill Pullman, Brad Pitt, Larry Miller, Ken Wahl

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