No Hard Feelings is a comeback story in multiple regards. It serves as Jennifer Lawrence‘s high-profile return and, more broadly, a test of the sustainability of comedies on the theatrical scene. Raunchy comedies have gone by the wayside lately. Except for The Lost City, comedies going directly to streaming is standard procedure now. A picture like this would’ve featured in the top ten for year-end box-office grosses 15 years ago. But the presence of comedies in theatres is rapidly becoming nonexistent. If Lawrence’s star power pushes this movie into a surprise success, studios may adjust their strategy. If not, we might not see a launch like this again.
Lawrence stars as Maddie, an Uber driver in danger of losing her childhood home. Once the property taxes she owes gets her car seized, she can’t even ferry rich tourists around town. She needs an influx of cash, which in today’s landscape is almost impossible. Then she comes across a job listing from a wealthy couple looking for someone to date their son, Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman). Percy’s helicopter parents, played by Matthew Broderick and Laura Benanti, are willing to pay top dollar to ensure he experiences everything before college. Maddie figures any 19-year-old is a sure deal, but Percy’s introverted nature causes issues. Despite her flirtation and bold overtures, he shows no interest. Percy proves a challenge even for a woman with sway over men and no sexual hangups.
The rapport between Lawrence and Feldman is crucial to No Hard Feelings’ success, and they share the screen without diminishing each other. As a contrast of styles—Percy’s timidity juxtaposed against Maddie’s fearlessness—Lawrence and Feldman balance their characters perfectly.
Lawrence owns every second of her screen time, portraying Maddie as libidinous and headstrong. She subverts her star persona, acing her way through physical comedy just like Goldie Hawn did in her prime. It’s been a while since Lawrence got to show off her comedic chops in Silver Linings Playbook. The Hunger Games franchise boosted her profile but only asked her for increasing glumness without providing the accompanying depth of Winter’s Bone. Here, Lawrence relishes the opportunity to lean into chaos, showcasing what we’ve been missing all these years.
Feldman, tasked with acting against an Oscar winner, handles himself well. This subgenre is filled with performances where an older actor playing a teen attempts innocence and comes off as ignorant. Feldman places his character in a state of vulnerability, trying to be a good guy, despite his parents expectations of what masculinity should be. The film wisely avoids any grey areas by aging Percy up and having Lawrence only 13 years older than her prospective client. Though the camera will, on occasion, frame Maddie as the Michael Myers to Percy’s Laurie Strode, having her stalk him slightly out of frame.
While riotous, No Hard Feelings is refreshingly sex-positive. Importantly, the raunchiness of the film never devolves into bad taste. While Percy’s innocence causes Maddie to rethink her approach to life, it never comes off as judgmental of its lead character. Set pieces designed for maximum-cringe-comedy highlight character development without resorting to crude gross-outs. That’s the marked difference between No Hard Feelings and sex comedies like American Pie. At its core, this film is similar to Judd Apatow-productions during their heyday (40-Year-Old Virgin and Superbad).
Director Gene Stupnitsky’s last film, Good Boys, did the unthinkable and turned fresh-faced Jacob Tremblay into a foul-mouthed hooligan. The filmmaker is game for shenanigans yet mindful of keeping heart present as well. Good Boys expertly captured the feeling of wanting to grow up while conjuring the terror of knowing how it will change everything. No Hard Feelings also has more on its mind than dick jokes. It pointedly asks how Maddie wound up taking money to date Percy. People are quick to defame those who do sex work without considering how class structures put sex workers in those places. Turning intimacy into a commodity only happens because of people like Percy’s parents.
It goes without saying that No Hard Feelings couldn’t exist without Jennifer Lawrence dedicating herself entirely to the project. After franchise exhaustion during the late 2010s, Lawrence appears refreshed from Causeway and this project. A scene featuring her trying to kick down a door will live in my memory for a good while. Then there’s a scene (that I won’t spoil) that will shock your audience. It certainly did mine. Those kinds of surprises in theatres are rare. Please reward the film that went out of its way to create one. Mid-budget movies like this need a win.