By George Bate & Josh Reilly B.
2023 is the summer of returning action heroes. From Michael Keaton’s Batman to Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones, classic protagonists from yesteryear are coming back into the limelight for one last go around. The presence of big budget action films like The Flash and Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny during this hectic summer movie season gives an opportunity for some refreshing counter-programming.
No Hard Feelings, a raunchy R-rated comedy starring Jennifer Lawrence, exists as the most prominent example of counter-programming in this summer’s busy movie calendar and a true throwback to the times when R-rated, star-driven studio comedies like Knocked Up and Step Brothers were commonplace in the theater.
No Hard Feelings stars Jennifer Lawrence as Maddie, a young woman who needs to get a car as quickly as possible in order to continue her job as an Uber driver and keep her family home. To get the money she needs, Maddie is hired by the parents of a 19-year-old to ‘date’ their son and help him come out of his shell of awkwardness and anxiety before he heads off to college.
The film sports a simple, risqué premise that would not be out of place among the deluge of late 1990s/early 2000s R-rated comedies like American Pie or Superbad. It’s a testament to the changing landscape of theatrical releases that a film like No Hard Feelings is quite refreshing and a welcomed treat in 2023, despite lacking in a few key areas. The filmmakers take some big swings with an array of crude, R-rated, heightened jokes – some of which land while some of which don’t. An Eastern Promises-esque (yes, we referenced Eastern Promises in a review for No Hard Feelings) fight sequence on a beach and a scene in which Andrew Barth Feldman’s Percy character holds on to Jennifer Lawrence’s character’s car windshield for dear life are some of the examples of the filmmakers abandoning logic, reason, and physics to deliver some larger-than-life laughs. Are these attempts successful? Not always. But are these attempts admirable in a cinematic landscape largely devoid of such antics? Absolutely.
While the big jokes are hit-and-miss, the film finds greater success with its more subtle humor and clever one-liners. This is very much in line with director Gene Stupnitsky’s previous work, who was notably involved in the creation of The Office and most recently directed the underrated Good Boys. His work on No Hard Feelings isn’t as funny or envelope-pushing as Good Boys, but there’s still plenty to enjoy here.
Much of this enjoyment can be attributed to the work of Jennifer Lawrence, who is also a producer of the film. Lawrence swings for the fences with her performance, really giving it her all and committing to the bit of a woman who finds herself in an incredibly unusual and awkward situation. Lawrence is clearly having the time of her life making this film and this enjoyment is quite infectious, helping one overlook some of the film’s shortcomings. If there’s a reason to see No Hard Feelings, it’s to see Jennifer Lawrence deliver one of her most memorable performances.
Sharing the screen and having fantastic chemistry with Jennifer Lawrence is Andrew Barth Feldman, who plays the young man who Lawrence’s character is hired to ‘date.’ Feldman makes his big theatrical debut here, but one would never know this from watching the film as he holds his own and stands out while acting alongside one of the industry’s most recognizable names. It’s through Feldman’s character Percy and his burgeoning relationship with Lawrence’s Maddie character that the film proves most successful. While not as funny as one would hope, No Hard Feelings is surprisingly sweet and heartfelt. The film champions a message of personal growth and coming out of one’s shell, with Feldman playing both the comedic and emotional sides of this theme extremely well.
With such a strong cast and unusual premise, the lack of laugh-out-loud humor feels like a missed opportunity however. No Hard Feelings is by no means dull, but far too much of the humor falls flat. Perhaps more damningly for some, the premise of an adult woman being paid to get close to an immature teenager might be unsettling and uncomfortable.
No Hard Feelings is a throwback to the R-rated raunchy comedies of the 1990s and 2000s that have, for one reason or another, gone out of fashion. While the film’s attempts at humor yield mixed results, it is unexpectedly heartfelt and features a must-see comedic performance from Jennifer Lawrence. Despite its flaws, it’s refreshing to watch a film that doesn’t take itself so seriously amidst the wealth of CGI-heavy blockbusters debuting this summer. Ultimately, it’s so great that they’re still making these kinds of movies.