No Hard Feelings title image
Director
Cast
, , , , ,
Rated
R
Runtime
107 min.
Release Date
06/23/2023
No Hard Feelings poster

In today’s hypersensitive social climate, a raunchy, foul-mouthed summer comedy in the vein of There’s Something About Mary (1998), American Pie (1999), or The Wedding Crashers (2005) is a risky prospect. Offend anyone, and the repercussions could be disastrous. Perhaps that’s why the R-rated summer comedy has been all but absent from movie theaters in recent years. What once saturated the marketplace has been relegated to the ether of streaming services, unable to tap into the zeitgeist as such comedies once did. No Hard Feelings attempts to correct that right down to the logline: Jennifer Lawrence stars as a down-and-out Uber driver who, desperate to save her house, agrees to help a 19-year-old man-boy out of his shell (i.e. sleep with him) as part of her deal with his parents to acquire a new car. Inappropriate humor ensues. But it’s not so inappropriate that it will offend anyone. It pushes no boundaries. It takes no risks. And in its attempts to be a crude comedy, it serves only an audience looking for safe entertainment. Sometimes, a moviegoer wants to be scandalized, but No Hard Feelings isn’t that kind of movie. 

Oh, sure, the movie boasts a few bawdy moments. At one point, a man sticks his penis into one end of a finger cuff, and then he asks Lawrence to keep her eyes close while he sticks her finger in the other end. Another scene involves Lawrence unleashing hell on a trio of drunk pranksters by assaulting them while nude. The double-entendre titled No Hard Feelings is also chock full of awkward situations between Lawrence’s character, Maddie, and her adolescent-looking mark, Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman). Maddie puts herself in sexual situations with a legal adult who behaves like a child, stretching, but not stepping over, the boundaries of good taste. The setup comes so close to being about a 32-year-old woman and an underage boy hooking up—even though it isn’t—that the screenplay feels like it was once more risqué, but it was softened to avoid offending anyone. Then again, it’s also a classic scenario going back to Billy Wilder’s work on The Major and the Minor (1942) and Love in the Afternoon (1957), involving a May-December coupling, spliced with Failure to Launch (2006).

Maybe if No Hard Feelings had been made in the 1980s, when movies such as Just One of the Guys (1985) and Can’t Buy Me Love (1987)—clear inspirations here—pushed boundaries of taste, the movie would’ve been more willing to take risks. But in their apparent attempt at a throwback comedy, director Gene Stupnitsky (Good Boys, 2019) and his co-writer, John Phillips, aren’t ready to fully conform to the model of comedies from yesteryear. That, of course, is a safe play. Many of those comedies from 40 years ago contain scenes that probably should’ve been deemed inappropriate even then. Still, No Hard Feelings pulls its punches, making the result feel like it’s trying to serve two masters: socially sensitive viewers in younger generations and older viewers accustomed to bad-taste comedies—but more so the latter group. Note the soundtrack, which isn’t filled with modern hits but rather opens with Tommy James’ “Draggin’ the Line” (1971), uses Hall & Oates’ “Maneater” (1982) for thematic emphasis, and ends with “You’ll Accompany Me” by Bob Seger (1980).  

So rather than cause anyone to gasp or feel provoked, No Hard Feelings is a rather sweet and only occasionally funny movie about two loners who find each other. The struggling Maddie has never left Montauk, and she’s desperate to keep the house where she grew up with her late mother, owing to her involved backstory. Although she resents the rich folk who have moved into the community, she nonetheless answers a Craig’s List ad posted by Percy’s yuppie helicopter parents (Matthew Broderick and Laura Benanti), who hope their sensitive and introverted son will loosen up before going to Princeton in the fall. She’s a “maneater” who bolts upon hearing the L-word; he’s afraid to experience life. Neither of them went to their respective proms. Maybe, just maybe, Percy will teach Maddie the value of meaningful relationships. And perhaps she will help send him to college a little wiser if still a virgin. Indeed, the script is so formulaic it practically writes itself. But no borders—especially not legal ones—will be crossed. It’s the kind of blue-humored comedy you could bring your mother to without feeling embarrassed. 

Most comedies of this ilk adhere to an established template, offering few surprises along the way. What makes them memorable are the specific performances and situations. No Hard Feelings offers a few tender moments between Maddie and Percy, with affecting performances by Lawrence and Feldman, but most of the jokes repeat themselves to dull effect. A running gag involves Maddie behaving in predictably sexy ways while Percy remains either oblivious or amusingly unsure of how to react. Other jokes seem to exist if only as setups for later callbacks, such as a sequence involving Maddie driving with Percy on the hood of her car, and then later, their roles reverse. Few of these jokes prompt audible laughs, apart from a chaotic scene where Percy declares, “We should get an adult.” Maddie reminds him, “You are an adult!” Less amusing are the remarks around Lawrence’s appearance, suggesting she looks like an old hag or a cougar in her thirties (she does not). And then there’s the clunky, groan-worthy finger cuff metaphor, signifying how Maddie can only move on from her life in Montauk by allowing herself to get close to someone. 

Admittedly, I saw a lot of myself in Percy. I was once like him—an isolated late-bloomer with a romantic streak who couldn’t casually hop into bed with just anyone. And while the movie’s portrait of arrested development in its various forms remains relatable, the comedy didn’t supply many laugh-out-loud moments for this critic. It was all amusing enough; however, I didn’t cackle uncontrollably as I did with some of the comedies listed above. But then, comedy is subjective, and you may find No Hard Feelings funnier than I did. At least Lawrence gets a chance to fold her no-nonsense public persona into an equally filterless character, which is a natural fit. Overall, the movie was never an affront to modern sensibilities, and it didn’t quite recapture the spirit of naughty comedies from yesteryear. It’s not actively bad, either—it’s just not the riotous summer comedy that one might hope for or expect. 

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