“No Hard Feelings” stars Jennifer Lawrence, Andrew Barth Feldman, Matthew Broderick, Laura Benanti, Natalie Morales, Scott MacArthur, and Ebon Moss-Bachrach. Released on June 23, 2023, the film is about a woman hired by a couple to date their socially awkward son.
The film is directed by Gene Stupnitsky, who also directed “Good Boys” and wrote screenplays for “Year One” and “Bad Teacher” with Lee Eisenberg. Adulthood can be difficult for many people since it allows them to handle more responsibilities than they face as children. But once they have a special someone by their side, life can change for the better…or the worse if that special someone is hired to pretend to be their “date”. This weekend is giving us a break from the back-to-back blockbusters that are getting destroyed by each other for many reasons: too much competition, word-of-mouth, and possibly at-home streaming. Fortunately, the penultimate week of June should give the big blockbusters some breathing room to earn more money since we only have one minor piece of counter-programming releasing this week. Of course, there’s also the wide release of Wes Anderson’s latest film, but that’s for another time. Instead, I’ll be looking at the newest adult comedy from Gene Stupnitsky, which sees Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence delivering the laughs instead of tears. Was it awkwardly funny enough to “date our brains out”? Let’s find out.
The story centers on Maddie Barker (Lawrence), a down-on-her-luck woman working as an Uber driver and bartender to pay property taxes on her house. Her jobs get more complicated when her car gets repossessed, resulting in her facing bankruptcy. Hoping to earn more cash, Maddie accepts an unusual listing on Craigslist. However, it turns out that the employers behind the ad are the parents of an introverted teen, Percy (Feldman), who displays no interest in girls, let alone having sex with them. The parents, Laird (Broderick) and Allison (Benanti), task Maddie to pretend to be Percy’s “girlfriend” in exchange for a Buick Regal, to which Maddie agrees. What follows afterward is a series of awkward mishaps involving Maddie attempting to help Percy adjust to his new life as an adult before college.
It goes without saying that this is another movie depicting an uncomfortable scenario in a comical and raunchy manner. If you thought three boys with potty mouths were bad, you haven’t seen an older woman dating a young male adult. I pointed this out because the movie has recently gained some interesting “discussions” about it allegedly promoting sexual grooming and making light of manipulation and sexual harassment. I’m not making this up, my friends. I literally found out about this before I even watched the film. What’s even crazier is that Percy is 19 years old in the movie, which makes him an adult instead of a child. I think the critics who started this controversy haven’t seen the movie or don’t understand its real intention.
While the concept seems uncomfortable at first glance regarding its adult rating, “No Hard Feelings” offers more than just an older woman attempting to seduce a young adult. Don’t get me wrong. The film has the usual raunchiness we’ve seen in other R-rated comedies. But at its core, it’s also a drama involving these characters learning to grow up. Maddie attempts to prevent Percy from becoming a hermit all his life. But as the film progresses, her attempts allow her to come out of her own shell. In other words, the film attempts to provide actual feelings within its sexual desires. Even though this balance doesn’t make a strong connection throughout the film, its effort was enough to provide mild enjoyment in its awkward plot.
Gene Stupnitsky surprised everyone, including me, with his directorial debut, “Good Boys”, a movie about raunchy boys that’s hilariously fun but surprisingly heartfelt. After his experience writing his first two movies, it seemed that Stupnitsky might have found his knack for balancing juvenile humor with a fun and sincere narrative, thanks to his first project as a director. In “No Hard Feelings”, Stupnitsky reuses this same strategy for a project involving Lawrence “dating someone’s brains out” but puts a bit more emphasis on the narrative’s sincere and dramatic side. The result is a mixed bag depending on a viewer’s expectations. On the one hand, it restrains itself from going overboard with its raunchiness, making the film somewhat easier for people who aren’t fans of adult-rated sex comedies. On the other hand, it might disappoint those looking for a consistently untamed comedy filled with sex jokes and crazy shenanigans.
As for me, I’m pretty much on both sides of the same coin. The first half took off reasonably well with its hilarious adult comedy and the presence of the main leads. After that, however, the film occasionally loses plenty of steam in its humor and pacing once it gets to its dramatic side. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the film’s drama, as parts of it were serviceable in getting the message out. But regarding the direction, the movie didn’t have a lot of ideas to keep the sexual tension going. There’s also the matter of its familiar genre elements, but they’re pretty inevitable since that’s what gets people in their seats. Gene Stupnitsky has a good knack for balancing adult comedy with heart in his films, including “Good Boys”, but his direction for “No Hard Feelings” doesn’t click as much as he hoped despite his promising intentions.
Aside from Stupnitsky, Jennifer Lawrence is one of the main elements that drove the movie. After starring in numerous award-worthy dramas and movies based on young adult novels and superheroes, it felt refreshing to see Lawrence bring out her comedic side. What better way to do that than by manipulating someone more youthful than her to have sex? I like Lawrence for her commitment to her dramatic roles, but seeing her deliver the laughs makes me appreciate her even more. Her performance as Maddie was delightful, but her comedic chops surprisingly worked just as well as her dramatic ones. It gives me hope that Lawrence will continue to express her comical self more often amid her next quest for Oscar gold. Andrew Barth Feldman also did very well as the socially clueless Percy regarding his amusing chemistry with Lawrence. I also thought Laura Benanti and Matthew Broderick had a few enjoyable moments as Percy’s parents.
Overall, “No Hard Feelings” generates plenty of them to bypass its awkwardness but may leave others with a mildly disappointing one. Its mixture of sex comedy and drama made the first half enjoyable for me, and Jennifer Lawrence continues to deliver the talent with her humor. However, It doesn’t do much else with them afterward. Despite Stupnitsky offering serviceable drama on some occasions, the movie is a mildly arousing experience that’ll likely satisfy specific viewers’ desires, including the fans of the actress, even though the final result falls short of its seductive concept. It may not have the same impact as “Good Boys”, but it’s pleasurable enough to make me come out of my shell.