Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) is the type of character who would be in the book club that reads something like A Simple Favor. Yet the cyclone level of twists in the story might only be thought up by someone like Emily (Blake Lively) after drinking too many of her patented mid afternoon dry martinis. Paul Feig’s satiric thriller is, alas, based on a novel by Darcey Bell that probably has been read in those clubs.
This takes the issues of female empowerment found in Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train (also from literary works) and casts a black comedic cloud over it. It occasionally risks collapsing under its sheer volume of plot turns. And somehow it rarely ceases to be a hoot with two dynamic lead performances.
We meet Stephanie on her daily vlog filled with cooking tips and child rearing tips. She’s a single mom whose husband died in a car accident along with her brother. Her instinct is to do it all, including hoarding over school parenting projects. She doesn’t blink when Emily, whose kid attends school with Stephanie’s, starts asking her to be an unpaid nanny. Emily has a hectic job as PR manager for a fashion designer, the already mentioned drinking problem, and has-been writer turned professor husband Sean (Henry Golding from summer smash Crazy Rich Asians). The two end up bonding with Stephanie deeming Emily her “best friend” (there’s a bracelet involved).
Then one day Emily vanishes and Stephanie’s daily posts become a darker (though always humorous) search for a missing person. Her protective nature draws her close to Sean, so much so that the authorities begin to question their motives. What follows is a relentless stream of genre clichés: insurance claims, alternate identities, unknown twins, and love triangles, just to name some. This is kitchen sink level stuff. It’s borderline exhausting, but you get the feeling that Feig and screenwriter Jessica Sharzer know it and are furiously winking. The director is known for his straight up comedies such as Bridesmaids, The Heat, and Spy. While this does venture into paperback adapted material, it does it with tongue in cheek planted wit. This is more in tone with 1998’s under appreciated Wild Things than something like Gone Girl.
Kendrick and Lively are the show here and their chemistry makes it work. Stephanie’s desperation for companionship is sold by Kendrick, who thinks she’s found someone special beyond her unseen blog watchers. She’s done so with Emily, whose back story is filled with too many secrets to keep track of (you will lose count). Lively has a ball revealing them. So do we once we realize keeping up with it all is secondary to its ridiculous and fun nature.
*** (out of four)