Jennifer Lawrence is known to have a funny off-screen persona. Her no-nonsense personality has made her a fan favorite celebrity for audiences. That funny personality has never shown in her performances, until now. No Hard Feelings is a raunchy R-rated comedy with plenty of heart to spare. The story follows Maddie (Lawrence), an Uber Driver in Montauk, New York, who is in a tight money situation. Faced with losing her childhood home, Maddie finds an intriguing job listing on Craiglist. A set of helicopter parents (Laura Benanti and Matthew Broderick) are looking for someone to bring their 19-year-old introvert son Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman) out of his shell. Maddie has one summer to make a man out of him.
The weaknesses of No Hard Feelings reside in the screenplay by director/writer Gene Stupnitsky and co-writer John Phillips (Dirty Grandpa). The story rides a narrative line between a raunchy comedy and a syrupy sweet coming-of-age story. Such a balance has been proven to be detrimental in certain comedic films. Actors who are of Lawrence’s (Causeway) caliber are what make this material come alive. She makes a cliché-riddled character feel incredibly humane and relatable on screen. Her commitment to raunchier humor makes for some darkly funny and shocking comedic moments. Lawrence’s chemistry with Feldman (White Noise) is the film’s secret and hysterical weapon.
Percy is a character that has an almost childlike view of the world. He has a naivety about simple things like alcohol, and relationships. The wrong actor can make that character obnoxious. Feldman mines the character’s awkwardness and gets some laugh-out-loud moments. His chemistry with Lawrence and her boisterous character create a clever dynamic. The banter is always flying, which keeps the film’s pace brisk and exciting.
That banter is best delivered in some very funny and graphic comedic set pieces. Both Lawrence and Feldman’s line delivery lets them land with a bang. One particular bit involving a graduation party will make audiences laugh to tears. The first two acts of No Hard Feelings feel like a different movie than the third act. Those moments keep the film fun and nostalgic until the clichés begin to show themselves.
It is the film’s moments of sentimentality that will leave audiences divided. At its core, the film is a story about a relationship. That relationship becomes something more than one that is “romantic.” When Maddie and Percy get to know one another, a genuine connection begins to present itself. Both actors give the dialogue in those sequences a sense of honesty, which kept me compelled. Others will see these scenes as recycled and generic dialogue that ruin the film’s raunchy rhythms. How you interpret these moments of kindness will depend on how you like the film.
Stupnitsky’s previous film Good Boys also flirted with moments of sentimentality. The film succeeded for some because of the relationship between the protagonists. Audiences felt connected to those characters in ways you will feel with the characters of No Hard Feelings. The mixture of sentimentality and raunchiness left me feeling charmed once the credits rolled. How these sequences move you will depend on your likeness of Lawrence and Feldman.
No Hard Feelings is not a film that will break ground for cinema. Instead, it is a reminder that R-rated comedies deserve a place in cinema history. Getting a great lead actor and a young-up and-comer can be ingredients for success. The trick is that those actors need to have good and palpable chemistry. Thankfully, both Lawrence and Feldman have a chemistry that is infectious. Both actors are instantly likable and work with a screenplay that celebrates this mismatched friendship. No Hard Feelings succeeds as being fine counter-programming to the summer blockbusters. Those looking for anything more than counter-programming could leave the film feeling disappointed.
In theaters June 23rd, 2023.
For more information, head to the official Sony Pictures No Hard Feelings website.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.