The R-rated studio comedy hardly makes any theatrical appearances these days, especially in the age of streaming. The only adult comedies usually come from Universal Pictures, which relish in genre-bending (“Cocaine Bear,” “Renfield”), mixing up concepts for kids but with a mature twist (the upcoming “Strays”), or banking on a comedian closely associated with Judd Apatow (“Bros”). But a solo comedic vehicle for an A-lister to show off their comedic chops (and not from Universal) sounds like a pipe dream. But Sony and Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence have made that pipe dream into a raunchy reality with the confident ’80s-styled R-rated comedy “No Hard Feelings.”
Directed by Gene Stupnitsky (“Good Boys,” co-creator of Freevee’s “Jury Duty”), the film centers on Maddie Barker (Lawrence), a Montauk-based Uber driver in her early thirties and on the verge of bankruptcy. When her car gets repossessed by her scorned tow trucker ex Gary (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), the house that her late mother left her is about to foreclose, and the income from her mundane part-time bartending job at a seafood-themed bar is far from enough to suffice. Resorting to Craigslist, Maddie answers an odd job listing that offers a Buick Regal as compensation. The position: date a wealthy couple’s (Matthew Broderick and Laura Berlanti) 19-year-old son Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman) for the summer, get him out of his shell, and pop his first cherry before heading to Princeton University in the fall; all while Percy is unsuspecting of his parents’ involvement. Initially thinking the gig would be a piece of cake, Percy’s clueless, awkward anxiety-riddled vibe gives Maddie a run for her money.
Since departing from Creative Artists Agency in 2018, Jennifer Lawrence’s recent return to the big screen boasts liberation from the intensity she poured into her past few roles. Her days of prestigious Oscar bait and being a franchise star who wore exhaustion in her performances are over. Today, with each new project, her agency and freedom are prominent. In “No Hard Feelings,” Lawrence proudly lets her freak flag fly.
Through the rambunctious, hasty cynical Maddie, Lawrence returns to her comedic roots from 2007’s “The Bill Engvall Show” and aces each facet of her performance here. She has the same skillful comedic ability as Anna Faris, Charlize Theron, Emma Stone, and Regina Hall, who flip their sensuality on a dime and dive into silly behavior. Lawrence has expert comic timing, especially with Maddie’s cynical clap backs and insults. Even for a skilled talent like Lawrence, she still impresses with her commitment to outrageous feats of physical comedy. Nothing she has done as Mystique in any of the “X-Men” films will measure up to Maddie going full pro-wrestler on a bunch of teenagers in her birthday suit.
“No Hard Feelings” boasts a breakthrough standout performance by Andrew Barth Feldman, who leaps from the Broadway stage to the silver screen as a delightful foil to Maddie. His Percy is like the anthesis of Gary from Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Licorice Pizza”; Instead of pursuing a woman of his elder, he does everything in his power to maintain abstinence at a slow and steady pace. He’s the perfect foil for Lawrence’s Maddie, garnering numerous laughs with his timid demeanor contrasting her outward confident spirit.
Lawrence’s and Feldman’s offbeat budding chemistry bolsters the film’s humor more than the mediocre material. But the best gags are all spoiled in the much better-edited trailer, which quickly cuts to the next joke, as opposed to the final product, where shots often linger on an actor’s reaction to whatever wackiness is occurring. Throughout this movie, I patiently waited for a singular laugh-out-loud moment not from the promos. That moment never arrived.
Director Stupnitsky is no stranger to combining the sincere and absurd. His previous feature endeavor, “Good Boys,” did just that and prospered thanks to its central young cast. His most recent project as a series co-creator, “Jury Duty,” followed suit using the charming non-actor subject Ronald Gladden. “No Hard Feelings” persists in trying to have its raunchy cake full of sweet sentimental frosting, but the frustrating script forces its gags and drama. The film’s comedic and dramatic facets attempt to garner a rise reaction from the audience without balancing the two.
Halfway through, “No Hard Feelings” reaches a gag high point and abruptly stops, sacrificing scenes of dating mishaps for juxtaposed stories about two lonely people of different generations and classes influencing each other to grow up. As sharp as they may seem, these elements are too familiar to “Licorice Pizza” and Lawrence’s previous lead project “Causeway,” two films that more robustly depicted these budding arcs. Around this movie’s second half, the outlandish comedy is lost in unearned character drama straight from an entirely separate script.
If it wasn’t for Lawrence and Barth Feldman’s joint comedic excellence, with their commanding charm and chemistry fueling its laughs, “No Hard Feelings” would have been a disaster. But thanks to them, it’s a serviceable summer comedy that should keep the J. Law lovers happy, even though her talents are better used elsewhere.
In theaters now.
No Hard Feelings (2023)
Jennifer Lawrenceas Maddie Barker
Andrew Barth Feldmanas Percy Becker
Laura Benantias Allison Becker
Matthew Broderickas Laird Becker
Natalie Moralesas Sara
Scott MacArthuras Jim
Ebon Moss-Bachrachas Gary
Kyle Mooneyas Jody
Hasan Minhajas Doug Kahn
Jordan Mendozaas Crispin
Amalia Yooas Natalie
- Gene Stupnitsky
- Gene Stupnitsky
- John Phillips
- Eigil Bryld
- Brent White
- Mychael Danna
- Jessica Rose Weiss