Opening in theaters on July 23rd, ‘No Hard Feelings’ boasts a committed performance from Jennifer Lawrence, a winning turn from co-star Andrew Barth Feldman and a solid beating heart beneath its ridiculous premise and overwrought slapstick.
What’s the story of ‘No Hard Feelings’?
Lawrence here plays Maddie Barker, a lifelong resident of Montauk, Long Island. Frustrated by the changes wrought by wealthy outsiders choosing the place to spend the summer, she’s also worried about her own financial troubles: her property taxes have tripled and she’s in danger of losing the home left to her by her late mother.
Maddie is also something of a mess –– after a string of failed relationships and hookups with local losers and visiting men, she’s now lost her car (repossessed by one of her exes, a tow-truck driver played by ‘The Bear’s Ebon Moss-Bachrach, who has a contract with the local authorities), which allowed her to drive Uber. That, along with a job at a local bar, was key to her earnings.
She thinks she’s found the answer to her money problems when she discovers an intriguing job listing: wealthy helicopter parents looking for someone to “date” their introverted 19-year-old son, Percy (Feldman), and bring him out of his shell before he leaves for college.
But awkward, animal/anime-loving Percy proves to be more of a challenge than she expected, and time is running out before she loses it all.
Who else is in the cast of No Hard Feelings’?
Around the central pair, the cast includes Laura Benanti and Matthew Broderick as Percy’s nervy parents, Allison and Laird, Natalie Morales and Scott MacArthur as Maddie’s best friends Sara and Jim, a couple expecting their first child but experiencing their own money wobbles, Kyle Mooney as Jody, a male nanny with a connection to Percy, Hasan Minhaj as local realtor (and former high school classmate of Maddie) Doug Kahn, and Jordan Mendoza as Crispin, Percy’s co-worker at a local animal shelter.
Does ‘No Hard Feelings’ provoke the right emotions?
Co-written by director Gene Stupnitsky with John Phillips (who previously worked with him as a producer on 2019’s ‘Good Boys’), the film aims to be a blend of ‘The Sure Thing’, ‘The Hangover’, though leaning more towards the heartfelt nature of the former.
And for a chunk of the film, that combination works, carried by the charm of the leads. Though based on a real ad that Stupnitsky was sent by Marc Provissiero and Naomi Odenkirk, issued by parents looking for someone to give their awkward son some life experience, the film spins that into a knockabout comedy of errors.
Yet when it pivots into a more emotional story and Maddie and Percy grow to be closer friends, it still manages to make the plot work. Maddie’s past comes into play, and we learn that Percy is more worldly than he might have seemed.
Lawrence, though she has rarely had the chance to show it on screen, is a winning comedy actor, and with ‘No Hard Feelings’, she thoroughly throws herself into the role of Maddie, a kind-hearted yet damaged young woman whose immaturity belies some complicated family history.
The actor has played troubled people before, albeit usually to more serious effect, but off-screen has proved herself to be very funny, self-deprecating and willing to commit to a bit.
All that feeds well into the character of Maddie, who is put through quite the wringer in this movie –– Percy sprays mace in her face after their first meeting when he suspects she’s kidnapping him, she ends up punched in a very sensitive spot while fighting thieves stark naked on a beach and choking after a drunken Percy accidentally hits her in the throat. And those are just a few of the indignities.
Yet she navigates it all with relatable emotion, her dramatic background also kicking in when Maddie reveals more about her life to Percy. Feldman, meanwhile, is able to play all the levels that the role provides, from gawky teen to more sensitive young man. And though it leans on some cliches in both cases, they’re not enough to derail the movie.
Feelings getting hurt
Not everything works, though –– Morales and McArthur are good enough to warrant their own spin-off (and Morales in particular can spin a sarcastic line delivery like few others) and have to make do with supporting roles.
Benanti and Broderick, meanwhile, do solid work as Percy’s parents, though they’re also slightly reined in compared to the leads. Not all of the jokes land, some seeming so goofy that they hurt the tone of the movie (one in particular, involving a car, some fire and a beach feels so torturous for one of the characters that it’s a wonder they’re not in hospital –– and the driver in jail).
And if the burden is on this movie to lift the R-rated comedy out of the doldrums, it might not entirely be up to the task, with some side plots (such as Percy’s connection to a former carer) largely going nowhere and not as funny as the filmmakers clearly think they are. Some judicious editing (even with a relatively lean 143-minute running time) might also have improved matters.
Still, ‘No Hard Feelings,’ while it draws more sedate laughs than huge audience reactions, is funny enough and finds a solid heart to keep you entertained on more than one level. And that’s something the likes of ‘The Hangover’ rarely managed. Plus, if it means Jennifer Lawrence is able to make more comedies in future, all the better.
‘No Hard Feelings’ receives 6.5 out of 10 stars.
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‘No Hard Feelings’ is produced by Excellent Cadaver and Sony Pictures. It is set to release in theaters on June 23rd, 2023.