Ice cold and finished off with a dramatic twist, “A Simple Favor” has a lot in common with the gin martinis that its lead characters drink throughout the film. The witty thriller, an adaptation of Darcey Bell’s 2017 beach read, follows glam fashion publicist Emily (Blake Lively) and widowed parenting vlogger Stephanie (Anna Kendrick), two opposites in small-town Connecticut who become fast friends as they spend their young sons’ play dates boozing and discussing their past misdeeds.
But Emily seems to hold more secrets than she lets on when a sudden work trip, during which she leaves her son in Stephanie’s care — the titular favor — turns into a missing-person case. Everyone is quick to point the finger at Emily’s husband, Sean (Henry Golding), who upon returning home from a trip of his own insists he had nothing to do with her disappearance. His unpredictable wife often does this sort of thing, Sean says.
The trailer reveals little about the movie’s genre, which turns out to be a hybrid of twisty mystery and absurdist comedy — a sort of satirical take on “Gone Girl.” That makes sense, considering director Paul Feig is known for such boisterous comedies as “Bridesmaids,” “Spy” and “Ghostbusters.”
This latest film is quite a departure.
It is also the one with the weakest understanding of how time works. At a recent preview screening, some audience members reacted audibly when Stephanie refers to Emily as her “best friend,” given the two have just met. Others groaned when Stephanie and Sean declare their love for each other, mere weeks after Emily is out of the picture.
Kendrick and Golding’s lack of chemistry does not help.
On paper, each actor seems well cast: Kendrick’s chirpiness and wry sense of humor suit her character, who turns out to be craftier than her crafting videos let on. And we already know, from “Crazy Rich Asians,” Golding is good at playing the hot guy in a movie full of determined women. But their romantic interactions feel forced.
In small supporting roles, Andrew Rannells and Aparna Nancherla do not get nearly enough screen time as a pair of hilariously gossipy parents.
But the most surprising performance is Lively’s. As the cheeky Emily, the star of such recent thrillers as “All I See Is You” and “The Shallows” finally gets the chance to be funny. She proves quite adept at it, especially when deadpanning such lines as, “Mother Teresa and I are, like, the same person,” amid a string of vulgarities.
“A Simple Favor” thrives when it embraces that humor. It gets bogged down, however, by its intricate plot, especially in the second half, when Emily’s many secrets come tumbling out, one after another. As she tells Stephanie early on, “Secrets are like margarine: easy to spread, bad for the heart.”
R. At area theaters. Contains sexual material and crude language throughout, some graphic nude images, drug use and violence. 116 minutes.