THE STORY – On the brink of losing her childhood home, a desperate woman agrees to date a wealthy couple’s introverted and awkward 19-year-old son before he leaves for college.
THE CAST – Jennifer Lawrence, Andrew Barth Feldman, Laura Benanti, Natalie Morales & Matthew Broderick
THE TEAM – Gene Stupnitsky (Director/Writer) & John Phillips (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 103 Minutes
Less than a decade ago, releasing a film like “No Hard Feelings” wouldn’t feel like anything noteworthy. But Hollywood has changed since then, and the arrival of a new, original studio comedy centered around a genuine movie star feels like an odd cause for celebration, especially when said movie star is undoubtedly this film’s greatest asset. Jennifer Lawrence throws every ounce of her comedic abilities into the movie, and without her, the whole endeavor would flounder.
Lawrence plays Maddie – a young woman who finds herself drowning in debt and suddenly without a car, which is a huge problem for her Uber-driving gig. Desperate, she agrees to help a pair of wealthy parents (Laura Benanti and Matthew Broderick) who have an unusual request. They want someone to date their awkward, shy 19-year-old son Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman) in order to open him up and usher him into adulthood before he departs for college. And in exchange, they will give Maddie a car. With nothing to lose and a vehicle to gain, Maddie decides to go for it with everything she’s got.
It’s so refreshing to see Lawrence not only anchoring a movie again (she hasn’t led an exclusively theatrical release since 2018’s “Red Sparrow“) but also, as a credited producer, having a direct hand in shaping her on-screen persona. How essential she is to most of the movie’s success can’t be understated. She nails it whether she’s tasked with giving a twisted facial expression, a cutting-line delivery, or an extended bit of physical comedy. Notably, the film also feels like a bit of a meta-minded exploration of Lawrence’s movie stardom. Differences between Millennials and Zoomers are played for laughs, and seeing as Lawrence was one of the last stars that Millennials saw ascend to fame, there are moments where it feels like she’s exploring her place in a new and changing world curated towards the younger generation. It’s a wise move on her part.
As Lawrence’s comedic co-pilot, Feldman proves to be unbelievably adept at keeping up with someone who’s been in front of cameras for most of her life. A leading man on Broadway before he even turned 18, “No Hard Feelings” marks Feldman’s first ever theatrical film role. Not only are his comedic chops impressive for an actor of any age, but he’s also able to build a sweet, endearing character out of traits that could’ve easily come across as annoying.
A bevy of reliable actors rounds out the supporting cast. Stand-outs include Natalie Morales as Sarah, Maddie’s droll, wise-cracking friend, and Broderick and Benanti as Percy’s overly caring and comically concerned parents.
While the actors provide as much energy as they can, the film’s humor is decidedly uneven. Jokes fly fast and furious, especially in the film’s buoyant first half, and given the sheer number of them, not all of them land. Some of the humor even comes across as surprisingly creaky and old-fashioned, as if the script had been written in the 90s and not all of it had been updated for a 2023 audience. Still, several comedic set pieces are undeniably hilarious, almost all of them revolving around Lawrence. Most memorably, she’s the center of a fight scene on a beach that will undoubtedly inspire conversation over its delightful absurdity.
As is often the case with comedies, especially those predicated on withholding information from a main character, the third act of “No Hard Feelings” feels like a slam on the brakes. The characters must go through the perfunctory motions that accompany a sudden dramatic revelation, and the film struggles to retain energy. But rather than moving swiftly through any necessary plot beats, the movie takes its time with far too many vignettes intended to wrap up every minor character and storyline, even those that don’t feel as if they’ve earned an encore moment.
Still, when the movie is merely a vehicle for Lawrence’s comedic gifts, it’s an enjoyable ride. “No Hard Feelings” deserves to be championed by film fans, if only so that more – and better – movies of its kind will be made.