Director Paul Feig, screenwriter Jessica Sharzer, and company have hit on a new genre -- the Cute Noir -- and they've done it with style, humor, and a spicy sprinkling of nerve. Under Feig's snappy direction, A Simple Favor deftly mixes noir standards -- the missing person, the femme fatale, game-changing secrets, illicit romance, the double-cross -- with the comic timing and panache of Feig's Bridesmaids and Spy, while staying based in a relatable suburban reality. Sharzer's script, adapted from Darcey Bell's novel, offers pithy observations on the mom-life ecosystem and plenty of snappy dialogue. Lively seems to have found her niche as the femme fatale, drolly dropping such casually inappropriate lines as "Mommy already has a play date with a symphony of antidepressants." When her young son says she doesn't let him have any fun, she shoots back, "I let you tear my labia as you exited my body." Lively and Kendrick have excellent chemistry as the movie's odd couple.
It's really Kendrick's movie, though, and she delivers in spade-shaped cupcakes. Her performance is multifaceted, decorated with ornate detail and wonderfully honed takes. Underneath Stephanie's comic awkwardness is a surprisingly formidable person with a significant carnal drive. The actress can stop on a dime, flashing from ultra-competent Martha Stewart disciple to stumbling, learning-on-the-job Sherlock Better Homes and Gardens. Several supporting players also distinguish themselves, including Hamilton's Andrew Rannells as a bitchy member of the mom coterie and Bashir Salahuddin as a jolly cop. The ground is laid for a sequel, and if it could be as sharp and funny as A Simple Favor, it would be welcome. This movie is twisty, nasty, snake-pit-y fun.