Today’s mid-budget comedies often find their places on streaming platforms rather than theatrical releases like they used to. This is why movies like ‘No Hard Feelings’ feels like a refreshing change of pace amidst the crowded summer blockbusters filled with superhero genres, big-budget sequels, and iconic franchises. ‘No Hard Feelings’ also turns out to be a raunchy comedy – the kind we don’t see a lot these days that isn’t afraid of getting all naughty, bold, and offensive.
Plus, the icing on the cake? The movie even has Jennifer Lawrence baring it all, both literally and figuratively, which truly earned its hard R-rating. Sure, Lawrence has played comedies before, with movies like ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ and ‘Don’t Look Up.’
But this is the first time that the Oscar-winning actress fully embraced her comedic side, proving her versatility as an actress beyond her usual dramatic range. ‘No Hard Feelings’ went as far as featuring her in a bound-to-be-talked-about beach fight scene.
She goes full-frontal here, and let’s just say it was a scene that instantly reminded me of the naked Viggo Mortensen fighting against two thugs in the sauna in ‘Eastern Promises.’ Except that in ‘No Hard Feelings,’ it was played for laughs as we see Lawrence tussling with a bunch of playful bullies on the beach.
Before I go further about Jennifer Lawrence, let’s get to the story part out of the gate. Co-written by Gene Stupnitsky of TV’s ‘The Office’ fame and John Phillips, the plot boasts an interesting hook: Maddie (Lawrence) is having a rough day. One morning, she finds her car got repossessed because she failed to pay the property taxes for the Montauk house that she inherited from her late mother. She needs that car badly because it helps to earn her income as an Uber driver. And while she does have a job working at the bar, it isn’t enough to cover her monthly expenses.
One day, she stumbles upon a Craigslist ad from a rich couple (Matthew Broderick and Laura Benanti) looking for a girl to “date” their introverted 19-year-old son, Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman). As in bringing him out of his shell before he goes to Princeton. Maddie, who is desperate as ever, takes the opportunity and manages to convince the parents to hire her. The reward is that she gets to drive home a Buick Regal.
The first half of the movie is dedicated mostly to the raunchy-comedy formula, and it sure has its fair share of R-rated laughs. Other than the memorable beach fight scene, Stupnitsky – who also directed the movie – has a field day staging a series of awkward situations between Maddie and Percy.
The elaborate scene, which takes place at a high-school party, is worth mentioning here, as Stupnitsky cleverly subverted the usual expectation from the way he portrays the Gen-Z teenagers, resulting in Maddie’s surprised expression and exclamations like “Doesn’t anyone f*** anymore?”
Back to Jennifer Lawrence, her character may have been unlikable at first. An unfaithful woman who ghosted her ex (Ebon Moss-Bachrach’s Gary) and doesn’t mind exploiting a shy loser like Percy to land the Buick Regal. At one point, she is rather calculative and argues with a customer than serve him a drink while working as a bartender. But as the movie progresses further, the story develops her emotional connection with Percy, leading to a surprising tonal shift in the second half.
Frankly, I didn’t expect ‘No Hard Feelings,’ which is heavily marketed as a raunchy comedy, would end up with a mix of heartfelt and coming-of-age drama. So, if you are hoping for an all-out raunchy comedy from start to finish, you might be feeling short-changed here. Otherwise, I think Stupnitsky balances the comedy and drama while never losing sight of giving Maddie and Percy their respective character arcs. It also helps that Lawrence and Feldman share terrific chemistry, going from awkward encounters to gradually forming an unlikely friendship.
While Lawrence is undoubtedly the highlight of this movie, Feldman holds his own as the socially awkward Percy. He doesn’t know what or how to react when someone sexy and beautiful like Maddie shows up to flirt with him. We learn that all his life has been arranged as the result of helicopter parenting, to the point that his phone is even traceable, so they will know his whereabouts.
But with Maddie coming into his life and teaching him the ropes, his confidence subsequently grows. And this leads to an unexpectedly wonderful moment of Percy impresses her and everyone in the restaurant as he sings and plays the piano rendition of one of Hall & Oates’ famous ‘80s pop songs.
Some of the shortcomings, though, are the subplot revolving around Percy and his potential love interest, played by Amalia Yoo as Natalie. The introduction of Natalie could have served as an added three-way conflict caught between her, Percy, and Maddie. Too bad that didn’t happen, as if Stupnitsky has forgotten to give the subplot related to Amalia Yoo’s character a proper closure or resolution.
Or maybe the possible extension of her character ended up somewhere on the cutting-room floor. At times, ‘No Hard Feelings’ suffers from a clunky pace, but overall, it was a better-than-expected raunchy comedy with a heart. And not to forget Jennifer Lawrence’s impressive acting showcase, who has a flair for comedy.