Film review: Comic whodunnit A Simple Favour is sinfully entertaining

Anna Kendrick as Stephanie Smothers in A Simple Favour
Damon Smith

A SINGLE mother and food blogger turns amateur sleuth to unravel the mystery of her best friend's disappearance in the sinfully entertaining comedy thriller, A Simple Favour.

Paul Feig, director of Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy, blends a fruity cocktail of Hitchcockian whodunnit and gnarly black comedy, garnished with generous twists of spite and betrayal.

Think Gone Girl with killer one-liners and perfectly shaken martinis and you'll be close to the lip-smacking delights of a battle of the sexes in small town suburbia, adapted for the screen by Jessica Sharzer from Darcey Bell's novel.

Pitch Perfect powerhouse Anna Kendrick captures the tics and tenacity of her socially awkward homebody, whose well-ordered routine is thrown into disarray when the most glamorous woman in town vanishes without trace.

She contrasts sharply with Blake Lively's lost matriarch, who makes her entrance in lustrous slow motion, strutting elegantly beneath an umbrella during a torrential downpour dressed in a pinstripe trouser suit.

Sharzer's script is pleasingly self-aware as it references classic thrillers to keep us guessing as to the spouse's whereabouts.

"Are you trying to Diabolique me?" Kendrick's heroine asks the missing best friend's husband, referring to Henri-Georges Clouzot's 1955 thriller in which a scheming wife and mistress conspire to kill a cheating husband.

Thirtysomething widow Stephanie Smothers (Kendrick) is devoted to her young son Miles (Joshua Satine) and she enthusiastically volunteers for every after-school activity.

One day, Miles pleads with his mother to invite best friend Nicky (Ian Ho) over for dinner. Nicky's mother turns out to be impossibly glamorous PR director Emily Nelson (Lively), who masterminds global campaigns for self-absorbed fashion designer, Dennis Nylon (Rupert Friend).

Emily takes a radically different approach to parenting and she shocks Stephanie by telling Nicky that it isn't convenient to spend the afternoon with Miles because, "Mummy already has a playdate with a symphony of anti-depressants".

Unexpectedly, Stephanie befriends glamour puss Emily and she meets the PR doyenne's husband, Sean (Henry Golding), who refers to his high-flying wife as "a beautiful ghost".

When Emily calls one afternoon and asks Stephanie to pick up Nicky from school while she deals with an emergency, Stephanie gladly obliges. The publicist never returns to collect her son and Stephanie alerts the police.

A Simple Favour ricochets merrily between dark personal confessions and energetic verbal sparring as Stephanie discovers she didn't know her best buddy at all.

Feig shows a deft touch behind the camera and he elicits winning performances from the female leads.

Golding, recently seen in Crazy Rich Asians, is dreamy in underwritten support and Andrew Rannells is a hoot as one of the other parents, who observes Stephanie's boundless energy with disdain and jealousy.

A SIMPLE FAVOUR (15, 117 mins) Thriller/Comedy/Drama/Romance. Anna Kendrick, Blake Likely, Henry Golding, Andrew Rannells, Joshua Satine, Ian Ho, Rupert Friend. Director: Paul Feig

RATING: 7.5/10

Released: September 20 (UK & Ireland)

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