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No Hard Feelings review: Jennifer Lawrence comedy didn’t need the full-frontal nudity and slapstick violence

There is complex character work and a pair of brilliant performances here, if you can get past the ‘outrageous setpieces’

Clarisse Loughrey
Wednesday 21 June 2023 14:43 BST
No Hard Feelings trailer

No Hard Feelings was marketed in the most unappealing way – as a bad-taste stick prodded into the ribs of its supposedly puritanical audience; a raunchy comedy in which Jennifer Lawrence attempts to seduce a 19-year-old boy. But rarely do films that call themselves “edgy” ever turn out to be more than mildly immature. Director Gene Stupnitsky’s last film, the Jacob Tremblay-headlined Good Boys, heralded itself as the new Superbad. In reality, it was a good-natured, adorable-to-boot adventure into pre-teen befuddlement. His follow-up is no different: all bark, and far better with no bite. Behind the lazy, shock-tactic humour lies a streak of genuine humanity, something to carry the film beyond mere butts and boobs.

Here’s an Oscar-winning actor, one of the best of her generation, in the role of Maddie, a 32-year-old native of Montauk, a favoured summer retreat of the New York elite. She can’t keep up with the area’s rising property taxes and is now at risk of losing her late mother’s home. Then she stumbles across a personal ad, posted by a wealthy couple (Laura Benanti and Matthew Broderick) and asking for a woman to date their introverted son Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman) before he shoots off to Princeton University. If she’s successful in bringing Percy out of his shell, she’ll take home a second-hand Buick. Maddie thinks, “Why not?” She’s had sex for far more frivolous reasons in the past.

Maddie was tailor-made for Lawrence by Stupnitsky and his co-writer John Phillips. And it certainly feels like one of the first times we’ve ever seen a film actually attempt to capture the appeal of Jennifer Lawrence, the celebrity: confident, but a little gawky. She’s the head cheerleader if she actually turned out to be nice. Her physical comedy is pristine, as she stomps up the front steps of a house in rollerskates, or tries to seductively scooch a couch across an office. But she’s even better when Maddie’s antics falter, and we’re shown the very lonely person behind them – a millennial existentially horrified to have reached the “ma’am” age, while still feeling as vulnerable and inadequate as the Gen-Zers whose world she’s trying to infiltrate.

Maddie and Percy are separated not only by generation but by class, and Stupnitsky and Phillips’s script is surprisingly adept at navigating the somewhat complex power dynamics of this decade-age-gap, sex-work-aligned situationship. Feldman, known mostly for being cast in Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen at the age of only 16, allows Percy to have emotions beyond “dorky” and “horny”. He’s fully rounded in a way that defies Maddie’s description of him, that he’s “encased in bubble wrap”.

The fact Lawrence and Feldman feel so comfortable and honest in their work makes it all the more clumsy, then, when No Hard Feelings rampages into its “outrageous comedic setpieces”. There’s slapstick violence and full-frontal nudity. Someone, inevitably, gets maced. None of it’s silly or clever or even shameless enough to actually be funny. It’s a little ironic that Lawrence’s big showcase of her comedic talent would probably have been a better film if all the jokes had been cut out.

Dir: Gene Stupnitsky. Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Andrew Barth Feldman, Laura Benanti, Natalie Morales, Matthew Broderick, Ebon Moss-Bacharach. 15, 103 minutes.

‘No Hard Feelings’ is in cinemas

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