REVIEW: No Hard Feelings (2023, dir. Gene Stupnitsky)

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 103 mins

UK Distributor: Sony

WHO’S IN NO HARD FEELINGS?

Jennifer Lawrence, Andrew Barth Feldman, Matthew Broderick, Laura Benanti, Natalie Morales, Scott MacArthur, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Hasan Minhaj, Kyle Mooney

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Gene Stupnitsky (director, writer), John Phillips (writer), Justine Polsky, Jennifer Lawrence, Naomi Odenkirk, Marc Provissiero and Alex Saks (producers), Eigil Bryld (cinematographer), Brent White (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

A desperate woman (Lawrence) agrees to date a teenage boy (Feldman) in exchange for a hefty reward…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON NO HARD FEELINGS?

In response to those who think Jennifer Lawrence is way above headlining a raunchy comedy like No Hard Feelings, the way I see is that, having headlined a successful movie franchise, won an Oscar, and carved her own path to the Hollywood A-list – all before her mid-twenties, mind you – she has more than earned the right to let loose and drop a few f-bombs in such a film that, in some respects, is below her elite status.

It isn’t like she’s here to earn an easy paycheque either, as she’s also a producer on director and co-writer Gene Stupnitsky’s film, and in true Jennifer Lawrence fashion she gives herself completely to the role in ways that the actor has rarely been allowed to in even her more mature and awards-friendly fare. She is on top form here, and in all honesty the movie itself is something of a nice surprise as well – it may not be consistently funny, nor even as raunchy as the trailers might have you believe, but there is a nice and tender heart to it which does give it a boost over much more juvenile movies with similar plots.

Lawrence stars in the film as Maddie, a working-class resident of an affluent town in upstate New York, who is struggling to pay her taxes so she can afford to stay in the house that her late mother left her. Things get trickier for Maddie when her car is repossessed, preventing her from fulfilling her duties as an Uber driver, but she soon comes across an advert offering someone a brand-new Buick in exchange for an unusual service. It turns out that a wealthy couple (Laura Benanti and Matthew Broderick) are seeking someone to date their introverted teenage son Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman) in time for when he has to head off to college, and that means going all the way if necessary, so Maddie – who at this point is desperate enough to even consider the task – sets out to woo the impossibly socially-awkward Percy, only to find a more sensitive soul that she soon befriends in a more meaningful way.

The premise certainly suggests all-out raunch from the very beginning, similar to how Stupnitsky’s previous film Good Boys opened with 11-year-old Jacob Tremblay semi-innocently browsing the web for nude pictures, but No Hard Feelings soon reveals its more reserved side that’s more akin to one of Judd Apatow’s earlier comedies like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. It takes a good chunk of its time to meditate on themes of immaturity and arrested development, with many early scenes dedicated to Lawrence’s Maddie reacting with hostility to entitled customers and using sly manipulative tactics to appear more innocent and sweet-natured than she actually is, but instead of letting them slide as mere shenanigans, the script – co-written by Stupnitsky and John Phillips – allows itself to explore why this particular character may harbour such an immature and reactive mindset. It ends up unearthing some interesting concepts that not only feel much more nuanced than one might expect in this kind of film, but also make the characters more three-dimensional as they go through their arcs.

That isn’t to say that the movie doesn’t completely deliver on the raunchiness suggested in the trailers, because it is still present here, albeit in a slightly more nuanced way than one might be expecting. There’s plenty of gags involving bodily fluids and the odd bit of physical violence, not to mention one set-piece that ranks among one of Jennifer Lawrence’s bravest and boldest commitments to the screen yet in her career, but No Hard Feelings smartly doesn’t rely on much of that for the majority of its laughs. A lot of the genuine laughs initially come from the severe awkwardness between Maddie and Andrew Barth Feldman’s Percy, who at first seems like too much of a stick-in-the-mud even for The Inbetweeners to hang out with, and reacts accordingly when he misreads her seductive allure as an attempted kidnapping (which, again, shows the deeply committed physical performance that Lawrence gives). Scenes like this don’t always get immediate belly-laughs, but they are amusing in their willingness to sometimes go the extra mile in terms of physical comedy, especially with strong comedic performances from its two leads.

It is when these characters end up getting to know each other a little better, sharing some rather distressing personal stories and revealing some hidden talents and desires, that the movie reveals its beating heart. Since you do feel enough sympathy for them, as well as understand why they do the things that they do throughout, there is a genuine connection being made that elevates the film’s mature handling of its themes, and makes you care about whether or not these people will eventually turn out fine by the end. Lawrence and Feldman both share a very sweet on-screen chemistry, with the latter very much holding his own opposite his more experienced co-lead through some apt comedic timing, as well as his ability to bring a great level of pathos to a potentially insufferable character who’s essentially a spoiled teen coddled by his helicopter parents. Of course, Lawrence is no less than great, and she appears to be having a lot of fun in a movie where there’s clearly no pressure to go for another Oscar or any kind of accolade, though at times she’s certainly giving enough of a committed performance to be a long-shot for a nomination.

With a big studio comedy like this, the inevitable faults are as expected, from the predictable narrative to a few loose plot strands that end up going nowhere (SNL veteran Kyle Mooney shows up in a couple of scenes as a character who is set up like they’re going to be a major threat, only for him to be quickly discarded as a minor nuisance that isn’t in any way consequential to the overall plot). That aside, No Hard Feelings works surprisingly well as a mature and thoughtful comedy that, while not exactly being as edgy as advertised, benefits from a real sense of heart and, once again, Jennifer Lawrence letting loose in the most unexpected ways imaginable.

SO, TO SUM UP…

No Hard Feelings might not be as raunchy or as consistently funny as the trailers make it seem, but it works surprisingly well as a mature and thoughtful comedy about arrested development that’s reminiscent of the early Judd Apatow era, which is boosted by a deeply committed lead performance by Jennifer Lawrence, and her sweet on-screen chemistry with Andrew Barth Feldman that gives the film a beating heart.

No Hard Feelings is now showing in cinemas nationwide

Click here to find showtimes near you!

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