NO HARD FEELINGS Review: Jennifer Lawrence Elevates Middling Raunch-Com

Lead Critic; San Francisco, California
NO HARD FEELINGS Review: Jennifer Lawrence Elevates Middling Raunch-Com

There are few things certain in this world, but we know this much: comedy remains, as always, the most subjective of genres. Also, Jennifer Lawrence’s status as a generational talent remains unchanged.

Fresh off two straight-to-streaming efforts, Don’t Look Up, a wan sci-fi satire, and Causeway, a character-driven drama, Lawrence brings her supply of comedic talent, along with her often untapped dramatic range to No Hard Feelings, a middling raunch-com that works best, when it works at all, as a highlight reel for Lawrence’s fearless willingness to embrace her character, Maddie Barker, a directionless 30-something who can’t see beyond the childhood memories entombed in the family home left to her by her late mother.

To be fair, it’s neither Lawrence’s nor co-writer and director Gene Stupnitsky (Good Boys, The Office) fault that No Hard Feelings flounders when it dips its toe into its presumably raunchy premise involving Maddie; a coddled, entitled 19-year-old, Percy Becker (Andrew Barth Feldman); and the Buick Regal standing, or rather, idling, between Maddie keeping or losing her childhood home on Montauk, Long Island, a premiere destination for wealthy New Yorkers to spend their summers. Locals resent the New York tourists, but also frustratingly acknowledge their necessity,  given the structure of the local economy.

It’s a topic of semi-frequent conversation between Maddie and her two, and only, near-age best friends, Sara (Natalie Morales) and Jim (Scott MacArthur). Married and expecting a child, Sara and Jim, like Maddie natives to Montauk, don’t see a long-term future in a tourism-driven town where the locals can’t afford to buy a home of their own or, if they can, can’t afford onerous property taxes. It’s paying off those taxes by summer’s end that figuratively drives Maddie into desperate action.

The hint of social satire or class critique doesn’t get very far, though it’s meant to be embodied in Becker’s wealthy, comfortably numb, suffocatingly overprotective parents, Laird (Matthew Broderick, sporting a wicked gray mane) and Allison Becker (Tony Award-winner Laura Benanti). They’ve spent the bulk of their adult lives giving the family heir everything he needs or could possibly want. They’re deeply troubled, however, by the extremely online Percy’s seemingly debilitating introversion, an introversion they expect will doom his social life when he attends Princeton in the fall.

That, in turn, sets up the altogether dubious premise in No Hard Feelings: After losing her car to a lien and a tow truck driven by a vengeful ex, Gary (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), a desperate Maddie answers a Craigslist ad for a female companion. Said female companion, hopefully in her early to mid 20s and not early 30s like Maddie, will “win” the aforementioned unused Buick Regal in exchange for “dating” Percy over the summer. (Insert joke here about “dating,” already spoiled by TV ads and trailers.)

It’s a simple, if ethically questionable, not to mention potentially illegal, transaction (i.e., sex for a car and vice versa), but one No Hard Feelings quickly leaves behind to get Maddie and Percy together.

What follows next crosses into predictability almost from the get-go. Maddie’s attempt to seduce a repressed Percy end badly. Despite a face full of mace, Maddie somehow convinces Percy to go out on a real date with her, sending No Hard Feelings into a series of painfully awkward, occasionally funny, and rarely hilarious scenes.

Eventually, though, Maddie and Percy, both wounded in their own, not particularly unique ways, have some rather significant Life Lessons to learn while the Big Lie, a romantic-comedy staple, hangs over their relationship, ready to drop at the most inconvenient time.

With humor intermittent, a low hit-to-miss ratio, No Hard Feelings comes dangerously close to becoming unwatchable, but Lawrence salvages scene after scene, mixing perfectly timed line deliveries with physical comedy rarely present in her previous roles. Her performance here certainly won’t win her any awards, let alone nominations, but it’ll serve as a reminder of what a charismatic, old-school movie star like Lawrence can deliver when given the opportunity.

Thankfully, Lawrence isn’t alone. Feldman’s casting as a slight, inward-dwelling introvert was a stroke, if not of genius, then something a few degrees below genius. His utter and complete befuddlement at Maddie’s array of seductive techniques works because of how seemingly ill-matched they are. Percy’s gradual warming to Maddie, especially after she begins to show Percy glimpses of her true, vulnerable self, are made all the more believable by Feldman’s well-tuned, persuasive performance.

No Hard Feelings opens Friday, June 26, exclusively in movie theaters.

No Hard Feelings

  • Gene Stupnitsky
  • John Phillips
  • Gene Stupnitsky
  • Jennifer Lawrence
  • Ebon Moss-Bachrach
  • Natalie Morales
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Andrew Barth FeldmanGene StupnitskyJennifer LawrenceJohn PhillipsLaura BenantiMatthew BroderickNo Hard FeelingsEbon Moss-BachrachNatalie MoralesComedy

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