Comedy director Paul Feig tries a thriller on for size with the juicy “A Simple Favor,” a suburban Connecticut murder mystery that’s “Gone Girl” meets “The Stepford Wives.” Based on the novel by Darcey Bell, the consciously campy “A Simple Favor” 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 tragic death in a car accident. Shunned by the other parents, she takes up with the glamorous, elusive and mysterious Emily Nelson (Blake Lively), mostly because their kids want a play date. Thirsty for attention, she agrees to slurp down afternoon martinis.
As the sexy, stylish Emily, Lively is at her best. The role offers her a chance to try on a deliciously naughty performance while playing on her flair for fashion. She 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 schtick — her self-consciously dorky rapid-fire delivery — suits her character perfectly, as the ever-chipper can-do Stephanie, who has a penchant for Peter Pan collars and pom-poms. When Emily goes missing, leaving her son Nicky in the care of Stephanie, she pours all her energy into caring for Emily’s family and searching for her missing friend. When it comes to solving mysteries, leave it to a mom. Stephanie is the ultimate über-organized Nosy Nellie perfect for the job.
Golding slides easily into this role as bewildered but easily distracted husband Sean, proving his performance in “Crazy Rich Asians” wasn’t a fluke. He’s got the goods, especially when it comes to playing dashing charmers. A stellar supporting cast includes Bashir Salahuddin as a detective, Rupert Friend as Emily’s boss, and Linda Cardellini as a tortured artist. But the film wouldn’t work without the one-two punch of Kendrick and Lively, stepping into roles that play on their personas, while allowing them to color outside the lines.
“A Simple Favor” twists and turns like a flag whipping in the wind, teetering on the brink of total incomprehensibility while plunging into full ridiculousness. — just what you want for this brand of soapy, stylized and sexy female-driven thriller.