The predictable but reliably funny sex comedy No Hard Feelings stars Jennifer Lawrence as Maddie, a thirtysomething Uber driver who’s in a bit of a pickle after her car is repossessed. While working her second job, Maddie’s co-worker friend Sarah (Natalie Morales) finds an ad offering a used Buick to anyone who will date their 19-year-old son Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman). Desperate to dig her way out of bankruptcy, Maddie meets with Percy’s parents to accept the job and attempt to drag the awkward Percy out of his cocoon of video games and online interactions. Maddie’s early seductive passes at Percy evolve into dates that grow more meaningful and suggest that the two may have a genuine connection beyond the covert agreement between Maddie and Percy’s parents.
If the premise of No Hard Feelings feels refreshing, it speaks not to its inherent originality and more to how out of fashion raunchy romantic comedies have become in recent years. What makes this film slightly more progressive than past compeers like The Girl Next Door or She’s Out Of My League is that here, the female lead is the one calling the shots and it’s the male co-star who plays the ingenue. It’s also a tricky needle to thread to be crude but not offensive, shocking but not problematic. While the movie tends to be more on the safe side, save a few scenes that intended to provoke a reaction, director and co-writer Gene Stupnitsky finds a nice rhythm and balance between laughs and pathos. Like his similarly foul-mouthed Good Boys, the runtime here is also under 100 minutes, a brisk respite from the scourge of overstuffed outings.
After moving on from the Hunger Games and X-Men franchises, Lawrence took a short hiatus from the limelight but her return in last year’s Causeway and now No Hard Feelings remind us why she became so popular in the first place. Maddie is certainly rough around the edges and could be seen as objectionable for taking up the unsavory offer to “educate” a young man before he heads off to Princeton. But Lawrence hits the right notes with her licentious heroine, obviously able to pull off sexpot allure with aplomb but also unafraid to lean into the physical comedy, even when it gets ugly. The trailers have highlighted a moment where Maddie crawls on all fours crying after getting maced by a terrified Percy but a beach-set scene shortly after takes the cake in terms of no holds barred slapstick performance. You’ll know it when you see it.
Similar to his character, Feldman is more reserved earlier on in his performance and comes out of his shell as No Hard Feelings progresses. He pushes things a bit too far in the third act, in terms of how much his character changes, but the film’s mid-section allows for a burgeoning vulnerability to bring Percy to a sweet spot in terms of characterization. Feldman is also able to lend his musical theater bonafides to the role — he also played the title role in the hit musical Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway — during a restaurant scene that adds some nice dimension to his loner character. Feldman also has some well-handled scenes with his parents, played by Laura Benanti and Matthew Broderick, with the presence of the latter inspiring an inevitable Ferris Bueller’s Day Off riff towards the film’s conclusion.
As is often the case for rom-coms, the weak spot for No Hard Feelings comes with its plotting and the necessary contrivances that keep the narrative moving but simply don’t reflect real life. If you’ve ever seen a movie like this before, where characters make a secret plan that keeps one of the central protagonists in the dark, then nearly nothing about the second half of this film will be surprising to you. For as many hard-earned laughs as Stupnitsky and co-writer John Phillips work into the screenplay, I wish they could have come up with something in terms of story that wasn’t so well-worn. This is a comedy that relies mainly on the timing and chemistry of its two stars and that’s where the majority of its successes lie. No Hard Feelings is hardly a revelatory raunch-com but in its attempt to revive a stagnant genre, it rises to the occasion.
Score – 3/5
More movies coming this weekend:
Coming to theaters is Asteroid City, a sci-fi dramedy starring Tom Hanks and Scarlett Johansson following a writer as he stages his world famous fictional play about a grieving father, while traveling with his tech-obsessed family to small rural city to compete in a stargazing event.
Also playing in theaters is God Is A Bullet, an action thriller starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Maika Monroe about a detective who takes matters into his own hands when he finds his ex-wife murdered and his daughter kidnapped by an insidious cult.
Streaming on Netflix is The Perfect Find, a romantic comedy starring Gabrielle Union and Keith Powers involving a career woman who transitions from the fashion industry to beauty journalism and subsequently falls for her boss’s son.
Reprinted by permission of Whatzup