Jennifer Lawrence has been in the middle of a steady comeback for some years now. After a brief hiatus from acting, the former Hunger Games and X-Men star is now entering a new era of acting and producing. Lawrence now stars in her first true raunchy comedy with newcomer Andrew Barth Feldman in No Hard Feelings. Hoping to fulfill the old formula of a star-led summer tentpole film, Sony’s gamble here might just be good enough for those hungry for more romantic comedies or unfiltered rated-R adult stories on the big screen. Rounding up the No Hard Feelings team comes seasoned comedic writer-director Gene Stupnitsky (Good Boys, Bad Teacher) and co-writer John Phillips (Dirty Grandpa). With any comedy, this doesn’t come without its hang-ups, but No Hard Feelings is undeniably one of those films that teeters a fine line between what’s acceptable to downright inappropriate, for better or worse.
We follow Maddie (Lawrence), a broke millennial in Long Island, New York who is desperate to save her home after her bills and financial troubles become too overwhelming to keep up with. So much so that debt collectors come to pick up her car. Desperate to find a new vehicle, Maddie and her friend Sara (Natalie Morales) turn to Craigslist and fall down a questionable rabbit hole. Maddie’s golden ticket comes in the form of an intriguing job listing posted by two wealthy helicopter parents (Matthew Broderick and Laura Benanti) who are looking for a woman to date their introverted 19-year-old son Percy (Feldman) before he goes off to college. Percy’s father Laird claims that his own sexual awakening set him up for a great college experience and he wants the same kind of glory for his son.
What Maddie gets in return for dating Percy by this commission is exactly what she is looking for as an Uber driver who just go their car repossessed: a used Buick. As seen in the film’s viral marketing, Lawrence asks “Do you mean date him or date him?” To which Broderick responds, “Date him hard.” Seems like an easy enough deal, however, Maddie’s attempts to seduce the awkward Percy hilariously backfire on her. And in a familiar rom-com-inspired fashion, these two oddballs form an unexpected bond that brings out the best in both of them. You’ve seen this type of story before, and you can surely see where the plot is headed by the end. But to the film’s credit, you really cannot predict how it’s going to get there.
No Hard Feelings models itself on the raunchy slapstick comedies prevalent throughout the 2000s, calling back to hits like American Pie and Superbad. Though it’s important to note how pop culture and societal norms have changed since that era. Characters like Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) in American Pie, who are praised for sleeping with his own best friend Stifler’s mom (Jennifer Coolidge), are a product of that time’s comedic tastes. The approach in No Hard Feelings plays on Feldman’s childlike innocence and classic introverted hobbies (i.e. video games, piano, working at an animal shelter). Percy is the overachiever who was bullied in school and prided himself on being invisible. It’s easy to see why he ends up relenting to Maddie’s persistence. His lack of social skills prompts him to say yes to every crazy scenario thrown at him, except when in the face of a beautiful woman of course.
On the surface, No Hard Feelings seems to flip the gender roles of the past, where horny teen boys are after anyone with Maddie being the pursuer and Percy being the sweetheart. Nothing about this situation is “normal” and the film very much acknowledges its unconventional nature, oftentimes with blunt and abrasive laugh-out-loud humor. It’s very hard to shake the age difference between Maddie being 32 and Percy being 19. We all know how bad it would look if it were the other way around. Percy at first does not accept most of her advances and at one point comically freaks out because he thinks she’s trying to kidnap him. This whole premise is hanging by a thread, one that the script balances on just well enough to hold your attention from start to finish. However, it’s still hard not to wonder who this was exactly made for.
The moral line in No Hard Feelings would almost be crossed to the point of no return if it wasn’t for Jennifer Lawrence’s excellent comedic timing. It’s a shame that it’s taken years for her to be utilized in a comedy as absurd as this. Even Lawrence’s physical comedy will surprise audiences and her biggest fans. On her first date with Percy, Maddie tries to seduce him to go skinny dipping and finds herself fully nude going after some teenagers who attempt to steal their clothes. It’s one of the most chaotic and hysterical moments in the entire movie, almost to the point of disbelief, which No Hard Feelings achieves in spades for its best laughs.
Up-and-comer Andrew Barth Feldman is no stranger to the stage and musical theater, coming off a run on Dear Evan Hansen, Ratatouille the Musical, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, and most recently a transition to film with A Tourist’s Guide to Love. He is the perfect mix of awkward to volley with Lawrence’s over-the-top performance. For a premise as wild as this, you always believe in the chemistry between them and it helps sell the whole age-difference dynamic. Feldman makes you both laugh and cry, and can hold his own against his Oscar-winning co-star. The supporting cast is just as strong though, featuring well-rounded comedians and bright screen presences like Hasan Minhaj, Kyle Mooney, and Scott MacArthur. Plus, Natalie Morales has her fair share of memorable scene-stealing lines! At that point, having Matthew Broderick play Percy’s overbearing dad is just the icing on the cake.
In the age of reboots and remakes, No Hard Feelings dares to take on the box office with a “you just need to see it to believe it” kind of comedic story. While the film’s concept does stem from a real Craigslist ad that producers Marc Provissiero and Naomi Odenkirk sent to director Gene Stupnitsky, it almost crumbles under its own insanity. They took a huge risk with such an R-rated comedy and if it wasn’t for the ace pairing of the great Jennifer Lawrence and the worthy Andrew Barth Feldman, it probably wouldn’t have worked. The duo cement themselves as comedy gold. Aside from the age gap difference, which the film barely gets away with, and some cringe gender stereotypes, this light-hearted summer romp is just what many fans of the comedy genre are looking for.