No Hard Feelings (2023)
Director: Gene Stupnitsky
Screenwriters: Gene Stupnitsky, John Phillips
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Andrew Barth Feldman, Laura Benanti, Matthew Broderick, Natalie Morales
Former Oscar winners trying their hands at comedic roles is something of a common occurrence, albeit with varying degrees of success. When it’s done right, the results are an enjoyable treat that many of us can get behind. Directed by Gene Stupnitsky (Good Boys), No Hard Feelings puts Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence to the test in this sex-infused adult comedy about a thirty-something Uber driver who gets hired to date an inexperienced 19-year-old who’s en route to college. Unsurprisingly, Lawrence excels in a role she’s clearly having a lot of fun with, and one that should cement her place as a comedy tour de force for years to come.
Maddie (Lawrence) is a woman in her thirties who lives and breathes her hometown of Montauk, New York (the location famously depicted in 2004 romance Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), and the house her mother left her. Maddie splits her time between working in a beach-side bar and as an Uber driver, but struggles to make ends meet. With the tax man knocking, and her car getting taken as collateral, Maddie turns to the job advertisements on Craigslist to find herself some hope. The beacon of light she searches for shines in the form of an ad posted by concerned parents Laird and Allison (Matthew Broderick and Laura Benanti), who are willing to pay someone (while throwing in a car for good measure) to date their introverted and socially awkward 19-year-old son Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman). As expected, the maneater Maddie (with the Hall and Oats song often being referenced throughout) jumps at the chance to earn some easy money, but she gets more than she bargained for with this slippery young teen.
This seemingly innocent film brings a lot of controversy with it. Is this film glamourising a form of sexual grooming and exploitation? There’s certainly an argument for it, and the recent media backlash will try to support that very notion. Would the film even be made if the roles were reversed? We all know the answer to that question. Granted, some moments do make you feel slightly uneasy as we watch this desperate woman pull out all the tricks to bed this teenage boy for money. This is supposed to be an outrageous comedy, aimed at being controversial and very icky, but not once does it condone this type of behaviour. Instead, No Hard Feelings laments the entire situation as something highly irregular and very embarrassing, with Maddie often being the brunt of several age and loser-related jokes throughout.
Jennifer Lawrence is the key to making this film successful and moving it away from the above claims: her timing is impeccable, the physical comedy is a joy, and she clearly steals every scene. Her willingness to make fun of herself in any and all ways is a real treat and one that you cannot get tired of. The performance of Andrew Barth Feldman as the 19-year-old teen at the centre of the narrative warrants a distinguished word as well. He is the embodiment of millions of people: lonely, sheltered, unaware and scared of the world around him. The character’s willingness to find a deeper connection and a romance with someone, rather than meaningless sex, is almost poetic and should be the detail that becomes the focus of the film instead of the “controversial” tosh that has become the bigger talking point.
No Hard Feelings’ more blatant problem is that it’s very predictable. It goes through the same tropes that you would expect to see in a film like this: the awkward initial meeting (although it’s one of the film’s humorous highlights), the establishment of the relationship, and then the film’s final clarity that expectedly wraps everything up. It might not break any new ground in terms of what has already been achieved in the genre, but it does enough to place itself at the top end of the collection.
Filled with quirks, No Hard Feelings has plenty of genuine laughs scattered throughout, and is effective in wanting to be something a little more as well. Is it tacky? Only slightly. Is it a little tedious at times? Perhaps. It’s definitely not a film for everyone, that’s for sure, but there should be an audience ready to digest a raunchy and good-natured comedy with a brilliant lead performance.
Written by John McDonald
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