“No Hard Feelings may not be the instant classic R-rated comedy that it had the potential to be, but it is a fun, refreshingly unapologetic alternative to many of this summer’s family-friendly titles.”
Outrageous lead performances
A crew of scene-stealing supporting players
Several laugh-out-loud, surprisingly bold sequences
Disjointed pacing throughout
An uneven mix of emotional sincerity and screwball debauchery
An ending that’s just a bit too sweet for its own good
No Hard Feelings is the type of movie that could prompt one to say something akin to “They just don’t make them like this anymore.” Anyone who describes the new, Jennifer Lawrence-led film in such a way will be undeniably correct, too. The movie is a mid-budget, R-rated studio comedy the likes of which have pretty much vanished from the current Hollywood market. Not only does it feel like it’s been years since a film like this has gotten a wide release in America, but it’s been an equally long time since a movie star of Lawrence’s profile and caliber has chosen to do some of the things in No Hard Feelings that she does.
If there’s one thing that can’t be said about Lawrence anymore, it’s that she’s afraid of taking risks. For years, the starlet seemed trapped in a mill of mediocrity that produced a number of phoned-in performances in equally lifeless films like X-Men: Apocalypse, X-Men: Dark Phoenixand Passengers. Between her purposefully understated work in last year’s Causeway and her go-for-broke, gonzo lead turn in No Hard Feelingsthough, Lawrence has returned to a level of bravery and comfortability on-screen that makes it easy to remember why she briefly became the biggest actress of her generation a decade ago.
Together, she and No Hard Feelings director and co-writer Gene Stupnitsky make an entertaining case for why more R-rated comedies like it should be made and seen on a large scale again. What the film doesn’t do quite as successfully is make much of a strong case for itself as a worthy addition to the existing canon of R-rated comedy classics. It offers a fun time at the theater, no doubt, but it’d be a stretch to pay No Hard Feelings any higher of a compliment than that.
Inspired by a real-life Craigslist ad, the film’s plot follows Maddie Barker (Lawrence), a floundering Montauk native whose hopes of saving her mom’s house from being repossessed are dashed when the car she uses as a part-time Uber driver is towed away. Desperate to get back on the road, Maddie responds to a Craigslist ad created by rich helicopter parents Laird (Matthew Broderick) and Allison Becker (Laura Benanti, perfectly cast alongside Broderick), who offer to give Maddie a used car free of charge in exchange for her agreeing to “date” their socially reclusive son, Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman). In their first meeting, Laird and Allison make it explicitly clear what they mean when they say they want Maddie to “date” Percy and help him break out of his shell.
What follows is a vulgar comedy in which Maddie tries, to surprising difficulty, to get Percy to sleep with her. The film’s plot, along with its treatment of Maddie and Percy’s “relationship,” makes it feel like it could have easily fit in among the kind of horny American comedies of the 1970s and ‘80s. Of course, had No Hard Feelings been made 30 or 40 years ago, Percy’s sheepish responses to Maddie’s numerous, blatantly obvious sexual advances might not have been treated like the unsurmountable roadblocks that they are in the film. That is, for the most part, a good thing.
Despite the potential present in its premise, No Hard Feelings successfully avoids becoming simply a grating exploration or endorsement of male fantasy. The film is firmly rooted in the perspective of its female lead, whose brashness and unapologetic nature make her a suitable character for a performer like Lawrence. The Oscar winner’s confidence on-screen is on full display in No Hard Feelingsand the film’s best scenes are those that directly juxtapose her boldness against Feldman’s palpable awkwardness as Percy.
Following a necessary but slow first act, No Hard Feelings kicks into gear once it’s actually paired Lawrence up with Feldman. Maddie and Percy’s initial “dates” are when the film is at its most effective and screwball — highlights include an unfortunate use of mace on the part of Feldman’s socially inept high school graduate and a naked brawl on the beach between Lawrence and a group of idiotic teenagers. Lawrence’s willingness to literally bare it all in the latter scene cements No Hard Feelings’ place as the first big-screen American comedy in quite some time that is, at the very least, willing to go further than most of the other, straight-to-streaming originals that have been made in recent years.
The film, unfortunately, doesn’t maintain the same manic comedic high in its second half as it does in its first. In its attempts to flesh out Maddie and Percy’s emotional backstories, Stupnitsky and John Phillips’ script forces No Hard Feelings to adopt an uneven pace throughout its second act that can, at times, become distracting. Although there are endless comedic possibilities present in a potential falling out between its two leads, No Hard Feelings also fails to deliver a final third that’s as funny as its first.
In addition to Lawrence and Feldman, Stupnitsky wisely fills out No Hard Feelings’ cast with a lineup of heavy-hitting supporting players, including Broderick and Benanti as Percy’s overly caring parents and Natalie Morales and Scott MacArthur as a straight-shooting married couple who serve as Maddie’s closest friends and advisors. No one turns in quite as memorable of a minor performance in the film, though, as former SNL cast member Kyle Mooney, whose comedic chemistry with Lawrence turns his only two scenes into some of No Hard Feelings’ funniest.
There’s an acidic touch to the sequences involving Mooney’s adult nanny, Jody, as there is in all of the film’s best moments. It’s to No Hard Feelings’ own detriment that the film then decides in its last act to move away from the comedic ruthlessness of its first hour. The movie ultimately opts for a surprisingly sweet, occasionally saccharine conclusion, one that prioritizes its characters’ respective arcs over the many comedic swings it could take. To their credit, Lawrence and Feldman both sell the emotional realities of their characters, but Stupnitsky’s largely by-the-numbers direction doesn’t do much to elevate No Hard Feelings’ duller sections — namely, its closing 10 minutes.
The result of these various highs and lows is a comedy that feels refreshingly unapologetic and bold, but also a bit too sugary sweet for its own good. Like so many modern American comedies, it lacks the unwavering edge to strike much of a lasting chord. They definitely don’t make them like this anymore, it’s true, and No Hard Feelings’ funniest moments remind us why they should. All we can do is hope that whatever movies spring from its potential success manage to be just a little bit better.
No Hard Feelings is now playing in theaters.