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The Trouble with Jessica review: Insufferable rich people conceal a dead body in this chaotic farce

The Trouble with Jessica will be a gas for anyone with a penchant for terrible liars. A quartet of rich folk – two sets of partners, played by Shirley Henderson, Alan Tudyk, Rufus Sewell, and Olivia Williams – attempt to conceal the suicide of their friend Jessica (Indira Varma), all because one couple is about to close on a sale of the house where it happened, and they’d hate to see it fall through.

When the coppers turn up at their door, after an aborted call to 999, there’s a heavy amount of flustering and long-winded stories about errant youth out in the street. The quartet spend the film dashing about, hustling the body out of sight into bedrooms and bathrooms, far past the point at which any of this would be remotely possible. But Matt Winn, with a script he co-wrote with James Handel, has understood that the basics of farce are concerned less with the specifics of narrative and more with the ushering of a willing and talented troupe towards unbridled chaos.

That’s certainly true of The Trouble with Jessica, even if said chaos is signalled a little too forcefully thanks to Winn (a former musician) and Matt Cooper’s score. It’s as if the audience needs to be told that they’re allowed to laugh in the face of such a dark topic. The Trouble with Jessica is a cruel film – and that’s entirely fine, because it’s been smartly populated with all the archetypes of insufferableness. Jessica, who Varma plays with a toss of her hair and a finger gently circling her wine glass rim, seeks power in provocation. Her “memoir of a misspent life” has just become a bestseller, and she’s arrived at a dinner party hosted by Henderson’s Sarah and Tudyk’s Tom to the expectation of praise, and to lord her flirtations with her friends’ husbands over their heads.

Henderson, as Sarah, has an inscrutability that can easily flip between the saintly and the monstrous; Tudyk, in a relatively rare trip outside the voice booth, a break from playing animated critters for Disney or droids for Star Wars, delivers clueless with a placid, scarecrow smile. Sewell is Richard, the amoralist, a lawyer who regularly represents sex offenders, but offhandedly complains that they’re “all a***holes” as if they were merely tipping badly at a restaurant. Williams’ Beth, meanwhile, is the sanctimonious opposite, described by Richard as “god’s representative of perfection on earth”, though how much of that is purely performative is up for debate.

Frenemies: Indira Varma and Olivia Williams in ‘The Trouble with Jessica’ (Parkland Distribution)
Frenemies: Indira Varma and Olivia Williams in ‘The Trouble with Jessica’ (Parkland Distribution)

Winn winds these characters up and then launches them at each other like feral rats, to mock their privilege, their impulse for self-preservation, and their hollow pride in making a nice clafoutis. It’s a film about a very specific kind of friendship – one not built on love, but on a begrudging acceptance that these might be the only other people wretched enough to stand one another. What a shame, then, that The Trouble with Jessica shifts into sincerity by its end. A more daring film wouldn’t have allowed us a reminder that they’re all human. But as a way to watch unpleasant people sweat, it gets the job done.

Dir: Matt Winn. Starring: Shirley Henderson, Alan Tudyk, Rufus Sewell, Olivia Williams, Indira Varma. 15, 89 minutes.

‘The Trouble with Jessica’ is in cinemas from 5 April