A Paul Feig-directed girlbros mystery comedy, this has a bright, shiny look (accompanied by very chic vintage French pop chansons) and terrific, showoffy performances from the female leads – though it keeps pulling back from the brink and not plunging into the Patricia Highsmith-like darkness the story seems to demand. Scripted by Jessica Sharzer (American Horror Story) from a novel by Darcey Bell, it’s wickedly entertaining, surprisingly smart, and offers an enormous amount of art direction-costume design porn even if its last act keeps tripping up not over Blake Lively’s insane high heels but suddenly strained bits of plotting. Nevertheless, for four-fifths of the time, it’s spot-on and sharp.
‘Mommy blogger’ Stephanie (Anna Kendrick), who lost her husband and her beloved half-brother in the same car crash but is cheerily soldiering on, meets weirdly cute after school with Emily (Lively), a gloriously disreputable exec with blocked writer hunk trophy husband Sean (Henry Golding) and a money pit of a Bond villain lair home Stephanie is immediately struck with (especially the kitchen, which Emily only uses to make martinis). Soon, Stephanie is working as unpaid nanny and chef to her stressed-out friend, exciting envious, bitchy comments from the other Moms … but then Emily takes off on a business trip, leaving her son with Stephanie, and disappears. In Emily’s absence, Stephanie’s vlog takes off thanks to the mystery element, and she’s drawn into Emily’s wardrobe and her husband’s arms … especially when seemingly incontrovertible proof surfaces that the gone girl is gone for good. However, Stephanie is still haunted by her friend and starts digging up clues — a painting leads to a painter (Linda Cardellini), who still can’t paint anyone else though she knows Emily by another name – that prompt revelations about Emily’s strange, horror movie origins.
This is sophisticated enough to cover all audience expectations – at one point, Stephanie recognises all the signs of an it’s-all-a-plot plot and accuses Sean of trying to ‘Diabolique’ her, and he later responds that Emily has been ‘gaslighting’. It also drags in a couple of venerable plot devices – the suspiciously-recent insurance policy, sisters whose names (‘Faith’ and ‘Hope’) suggest an absent other – and walks a fine line between the obvious soul sistership of the female leads and the possibility that one is a born victim and the other a sleek predator. Kendrick and Lively are both great – Lively gets all the nastily funny remarks as a sociopath with an eye for the high life but Kendrick again shows her whole range as a happy homemaker whose brittle smile and awkward stumbles mask inner steel. Unusually, both women get to do Feig-style physical comedy and reveal a flair for it – Lively, in ludicrous businesswoman outfits, can get laughs with a stride and a downturned hat, while Kendrick struggles to get out of an inappropriately glamorous and borrowed dress as she staggers to answer the door to suspicious cops.