No Hard Feelings

No Hard Feelings
No Hard Feelings
Genre: Coming-of-Age Comedy
Director: Gene Stupnitsky
Release Year: 2023
Runtime: 1h 43m

I’m honestly not sure who was asking for a goofy sex comedy in 2023. Well, according to what I’m reading on the Internet, everyone was looking for one. If everyone includes the executives from all the major streaming services. But, let’s face it, they all just wanted to be in the Jennifer Lawrence business. She’s America’s millennial princess, after all. But No Hard Feelings certainly didn’t feel premium. Or artsy. Or even that cute. It does hit that 80’s raunch silliness nerve, but even on that front it’s not necessarily that funny. Mostly because it feels like a retread of the genre. Honestly, it all kind of hinges on how you feel about Lawrence. Which I imagine is the point.

The plot is a simple one. Nerdy-ass high school senior, Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman), is on his way to Princeton in the fall and is not so good with the ladies. His parents (Matthew Broderick and Laura Benati) put an add on Craigslist for a young woman to come “date” him so he doesn’t go to college a lame virgin. Maddie (Lawrence) is down on her luck, owes property taxes on the house she inherited and has recently had her car — which she was using to drive for Uber — repossessed. She’s an immature, rough-around-the-edges 30-something — not exactly what the parents had in mind — but they essentially give her permission to have sex with their 19-year-old son in exchange for an old Buick Regal. That’s the whole thing. I find it interesting that they make Percy specifically 19, since Ms. Hipster, Hipster Jr. and I were all 17 when we headed off for college. But I suppose in making him 19 instead of 17 or even18 they thought it would make him more “adult” and would hopefully mitigate the whole child grooming discussion. Which I don’t think this film escaped. Since — and I think this is the issue at the heart of it — the parents specifically tell Maddie that she can’t tell Percy that they hired her to have sex with him, and she has to instead convince this gawky teenager that she and he are both having sex of their own free wills. Which I’m pretty sure is the definition of grooming. I don’t care about all of that, of course, but in reality it would have been easier for her to just tell him that she was being paid to have sex with him, and I have a feeling he would have been cool with it. But this is a comedy, after all, and logic is optional.

Everything about the movie follows the paint-by-numbers plot points. The two circle each other, there is resistance on the nerd’s part, desperation on Maddie’s part, they find middle-ground and kinship, then have a dispute that breaks them and finally resolution. It’s all the same beats as every teen friendship and/or sex comedy ever. Which in itself makes No Hard Feelings feel very familiar and weirdly cozy. Throw-backy, even. So you cruise along knowing pretty much exactly what’s going to happen… And then Jennifer Lawrence fights dudes on the beach completely naked. Like emerges from a relatively innocent skinny dip in the ocean with Percy to a cage match with some teenagers attempting to steal their clothes. It’s that moment. It’s the pie sex moment from American Pie. She walks up the beach into focus and for a moment I wondered if the whole thing was CGI. But, no, it’s just Lawrence in her birthday suit punching and kicking and body-slamming dudes. It’s a brave choice, to be sure. But a seriously odd one. Because you — and she — had to know that this would pretty much be the one and only thing people remembered or would talk about about in this otherwise pretty safe, predictable movie. It certainly works on that front, but also sticks out as a pivotal scene on which this movie lives or dies.

I’ve been pretty up and down on Jennifer Lawrence over the years. I’m looking back at the films I’ve watched her in and realize that I find her flat affect and passive facial expression not effective in dramas. It’s like she took that deadpan character on in Winter’s Bone and just never relented whenever the script called for “drama.” It almost feels like she’s wearing a mask. No smiling, no grimacing, not a whole lot of blinking. Not too much intonation or tonal inflection. Just deliver the lines and keep your distance from the emotion. Or keep it all internal. That’s her style as far as I see it. But in a broad comedy like this, she’s a whole different person. It works much better for her. The subtlety that comes across as detached in those more serious films gives way to a more manic energy and a frantic physicality that replaces the stillness she seems to typically exhibit in films like, most recently, Causeway. I still find her to be a bit of an empty vessel at times, but she certainly displays way more personality in this movie than some of the others I’ve seen her in. It was almost as if she was having fun portraying this mess of a human being. Who offers to get with a teenager for a Buick. Anyhow, I think this may be a decent lane for her. Not sex comedies per se, but broader comedies in general. Not that Hollywood is making these much anymore. But I could definitely see Judd Apatow building his big return film around her as the star. Hollywood, call me!