Jennifer Lawrence’s comedic acting chops are on full display --- along with a few other attributes --- in director Gene Stupnitsky’s new film, NO HARD FEELINGS. In case you’ve been living under a rock, Stupnitsky and co-writer John Phillips’ much-anticipated screenplay is about a woman in her 30s who answers an ad to “date” a 19-year-old, soon-to-be college freshman.
Helicopter parents, Allison (Laura Benanti) and Laird Becker (Matthew Broderick), are deeply concerned about their son, Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman), who is scheduled to begin classes at Princeton University in the fall. He has no friends, doesn’t socialize --- in fact, he barely leaves his room, except to work at the local animal shelter in Montauk, New York.
In a misguided effort to find Percy a “girlfriend” --- someone who will teach him the finer points of dating --- and sex --- Allison and Laird list the opportunity for a young woman in her 20s, with a Buick Regal as the remuneration.
Maddie (Lawrence), a townie, has just had her car repossessed --- and she’s an Uber driver. The IRS has come after her for back taxes on the adorable little house her mother left her. Desperate to not lose her childhood home, Maddie answers the Becker’s listing, even though she’s a tad older, offering to meet Percy and “date his brains out”. What could possibly go wrong?
NO HARD FEELINGS has its share of some very cliched humor centered around young men and their awkwardness. It also has a surprising amount of laugh-out-loud moments. Watching Maddie rollerblading to meet Percy’s parents with a line of cars behind her is pretty funny, considering the haves --- and have-nots --- in and around Montauk, a summer playground for the wealthy. And navigating the stairs outside the Becker’s lavish home in her skates is even more amusing.
Sadly, there are more than a few silly --- and downright ridiculous --- scenes, but it is billed as a ‘raunchy comedy”. Maddie convinces Percy to go skinny dipping at night. While they’re in the water, three drunk teenagers steal their clothes. Maddie manages to catch up with them --- completely naked --- and proceeds to beat them up. Perhaps it was way more hilarious on paper.
But no matter. Overall, NO HARD FEELINGS is truly humorous, helped immensely by Lawrence and Feldman’s terrific chemistry and adeptness for comedy. Lawrence literally lights up the screen --- she has such a presence --- and it’s wonderful to see her being comical.
Feldman, who is versed in musical theater, is perfectly cast as the shy, nerdy Percy. Initially, he looks like such a little boy, but as Percy’s confidence grows, Feldman develops a more grownup persona. He’s really wonderful and holds his own with Lawrence. His piano rendition --- with vocals --- of Hall & Oates’ “Maneater” is amazing --- and a sweet moment in the story.
Writing comedy is the toughest --- it’s so bloody subjective. NO HARD FEELINGS is one of the more entertaining ones thus far in 2023.
Opinion: See It Now!
I can’t think of another actress better suited for this film than Jennifer Lawrence. She exudes just the right amount of sexuality, humor and empathy required to make NO HARD FEELINGS a comedy with heart rather than an absurd endeavor.
There are numerous funny lines conceived by writer/director Gene Stupnitsky and his fellow scribe John Phillips. The pair collaborated on TV’s “The Office” and know when to go for jokes and when to be serious. Initially, Maddie pretends to like Percy because she made a deal with his parents to draw him out of his socially awkward shell. In return, she receives a much-needed Buick Regal.
While some scenes are a bit over the top, NO HARD FEELINGS never reaches the point of being ludicrous. Genuine laugh-out-loud moments pepper the first part of the movie. Maddie Barker (Lawrence) is feigning a desire to adopt a dog so she can get close to Percy Becker (Andrew Barth Feldman), who works at an animal shelter. She asks Percy, who is holding a dog, “May I touch your wiener?”
But after a later sequence in a restaurant, where Maddie asks Percy to play something on a piano, the movie takes a much more serious tone. It becomes evident that Percy is becoming far too attached to Maddie, something his parents should have anticipated.
Feldman matches Lawrence every step of the way with his portrayal of a kid bullied in school, with no real friends, no self esteem and virtually zero experience with the opposite sex. The movie could have been a disaster if Percy was played strictly for laughs.
The entire ensemble cast adds so much to the film’s appeal. This includes Matthew Broderick and Laura Benanti as Percy’s desperate parents, Laird and Allison Becker. Kyle Mooney of SNL fame and “The Daily Show” comic Hasan Minhaj have memorable cameos, while lesser-known actors contribute as well. Jordan Mendoza is hilarious as Crispin, the deadpan manager of the dog adoption center, while Maddie’s ex-boyfriend, tow truck driver Gary (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), is also quite amusing.
Best of all, the wonderful Natalie Morales plays Sara, who is pregnant, married to wise-cracking husband Jim (Scott MacArthur). They are best friends with Maddie. Jeanne and I were floored by Morales’ unforgettable performance in the 2021 sleeper LANGUAGE LESSONS.
As with any film, things get passed by unnoticed. Maddie supplements her income by driving Uber, but the Uber sticker is on the driver’s side, not the passenger’s. Not a big deal, and other sight gags compensate. For example, early on there is mention of Percy’s mom and dad as “helicopter parents”. A few minutes later we see a framed photo of the family standing next to --- that’s right --- a helicopter.
There are certainly enough laughs to say that NO HARD FEELINGS is a legitimate comedy. But it also provides its own healthy dose of poignancy. But be forewarned --- this is not a family film. It’s R-rated for a reason.
Opinion: See It Now!