Comedy director Paul Feig tries some thrills on for size with the juicy "A Simple Favor," a suburban murder mystery that's "Gone Girl" meets "The Stepford Wives." Consciously campy, it is as bright and bracing as an ice cold gin martini with a lemon twist, and just as satisfying.
Anna Kendrick stars as Stephanie, a mommy vlogger raising her son, Miles (Joshua Satine), on her own after her husband's death in a car accident.
Shunned by the other parents (a gloriously catty trio played by Andrew Rannells, Aparna Nancherla and Kelly McCormack), she takes up with the glamorous, elusive and mysterious Emily Nelson (Blake Lively), mostly because their kids want a play date.
As the sexy, stylish Emily, Lively is at her best. The role offers her a chance to toy with a deliciously naughty performance while playing on her flair for fashion. Emily snares Stephanie into her web the same way she snagged her husband, the dashing novelist Sean (Henry Golding), with a potent mixture of sensuality and secrets.
Kendrick's shtick — the self-consciously dorky rapid-fire delivery — has started to wear thin, but here it suits her character perfectly. The ever-chipper, can-do Stephanie has a penchant for Peter Pan collars and pom-poms. When Emily goes missing, she pours all her energy into caring for Emily's family and searching for her missing friend. Stephanie is the ultimate über-organized Nosy Nellie perfect for the job.
Golding slides easily into this role as a bewildered but easily distracted husband, proving that his performance in "Crazy Rich Asians" wasn't a fluke. A stellar supporting cast buoys the duo of Kendrick and Lively, including Bashir Salahuddin as a suspicious detective, Rupert Friend as Emily's severe boss and Linda Cardellini as a tortured artist who knew Emily back in the day (and painted a truly outré portrait that hangs in their home).
But the film wouldn't work without the one-two punch of Kendrick (the "Pitch Perfect" series) and Lively (TV's "Gossip Girl"), stepping into roles that play on their personas while allowing them to color outside the lines.
Working from a script by Jessica Sharzer (TV's "American Horror Story") based on a novel by Darcey Bell, Feig ("Bridesmaids") keeps it light. There isn't much in the way of social commentary. Although there's a flicker of parody to the mommy vlogger videos Stephanie uploads while searching for Emily, they're an integral part of the story, too.
The plot twists and turns like a flag whipping in the wind, and by the end, it teeters on the brink of total incomprehensibility while plunging into full ridiculousness. But that's perfect for this brand of soapy, stylized and sexy female-driven thriller. The performers, slick execution and pop-art style make it a delightfully fun and kitschy ride.