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, adapted by Jessica Sharzer, 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 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. Thirsty for attention, Stephanie 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. Decked from head to toe in three-piece suits, Emily cuts a seductive and serpentine figure. 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 shtick — her self-consciously dorky rapid-fire delivery — has started to wear thin, but in “A Simple Favor” it suits her character perfectly, as the ever-chipper, can-do Stephanie, who has a penchant for Peter Pan collars and pompoms. When Emily goes missing, leaving her son Nicky in the care of Stephanie, her new best friend of a few weeks, 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 his role as bewildered but easily distracted husband Sean. “A Simple Favor” proves his performance in “Crazy Rich Asians” wasn’t a fluke — Golding’s got the goods, especially when it comes to playing dashing charmers at the mercy of overbearing women. A stellar supporting cast buoys the duo of Kendrick and Lively, including Bashir Salahuddin as a suspicious detective; Rupert Friend as Emily’s boss, the severe fashion designer Dennis Nylon; 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 and Lively, stepping into roles that play on their personas while allowing them to color outside the lines.
Soundtracked by super-cool ’60s French pop, “A Simple Favor” keeps it light. There isn’t too much social commentary, despite the touchstones like “The Stepford Wives” and “Gone Girl,” which are thematically much richer. 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 plot too.
“A Simple Favor” twists and turns like a flag whipping in the wind, and by the end it teeters on the brink of incomprehensibility while plunging into full ridiculousness. But that’s exactly what you want for this brand of soapy, stylized, sexy, female-driven thriller. It’s about as deep as a champagne coupe, but the performers, slick execution and pop-art style make it a delightfully fun and kitschy ride.
Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.
‘A Simple Favor’
Rated: R for sexual content and language throughout, some graphic nude images, drug use and violence.
Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes
Playing: Starts Sept. 14, in general release