VERDICT: Brash comedy gives way to heartfelt sentiment, but Jennifer Lawrence, whose multifaceted talent gets showcased here, carries the story across the finish line.
Bawdy of the tongue but mushy of heart, No Hard Feelings stops delivering on R-rated outrageousness (the main selling point in the film’s marketing campaign) about two-thirds of the way through. But by that point, writers Gene Stupnitsky (who also directed) and John Phillips and lead actors Jennifer Lawrence and Andrew Barth Feldman have made us care enough about the characters that the movie earns the right to spend time paying off its emotional investment.
None of this would work nearly as well without Lawrence, who proves in scene after scene that, Oscar or no, she’s game for whatever the movie throws at her, including a hilarious and sure-to-be-talked-about sequence in which she gets into a late-night beach brawl. More details would constitute saying too much.
Lawrence stars as Maddie, who’s in desperate straits; she’s up to her neck in property-tax debt on the Montauk, Long Island, house her mother left her, and the garnishing of her car means she can’t make up the difference working a side gig as an Uber driver. (Like Bridesmaids before it, this is an R-rated comedy with its roots in financial crisis.)
Desperate for some new wheels, she answers an ad placed by “summer people” Laird (Matthew Broderick) and Allison (Laura Benanti): If Maddie can bring their terminally shy and socially awkward son Percy (Feldman) out of his shell — and help him lose his virginity — before he goes off to Princeton in the fall, they’ll give her a barely-used Buick Regal.
Maddie’s initial attempts at seduction are disastrous, leading Percy to make her in the eyes when he thinks she’s kidnapping him. But the two grow closer, with Percy’s attention bringing out all of Maddie’s fear of intimacy and relationship issues. Of course, this is all building to the moment when Percy learns what’s really up, but No Hard Feelings manages to stick that landing in a way that doesn’t undo all the film’s earned goodwill.
The exuberant Lawrence gets to show off her verbal- and physical-comedy chops. She’s well supported by a talented ensemble, from Feldman (who undergoes subtle changes as he grows more comfortable outside the confines of his room) to vets like Broderick, Benanti, Natalie Morales (as Maddie’s pregnant best friend), and Ebon Moss-Bachrach (as one of many men Maddie ghosted once they got too close).
Cinematographer Eigil Bryld (Deep Water) gives the movie a breezy summer look while also very clearly delineating the working-class world of Maddie and her friends (who do all the service jobs in Montauk) and the wealth of Percy and his peers. And a tip of the hat to casting director Rich Delia for making all of Generation X feel old by including Ferris Bueller’s Day Off star Matthew Broderick as the father of this film’s Cameron. (Complete with at least one damaged automobile.)
It probably speaks to 21st-century Hollywood that even a movie that promises R-rated hijinks (and nudity) as a selling point can’t wholly commit to the bit, ultimately digging down to the soft human center of its potentially over-the-top characters. But if contemporary American cinema insists on having its cake and eating it when it comes to mixing the sour and the sweet, at least a film like No Hard Feelings spotlights the ability of an actor like Lawrence to deliver both with complete sincerity.
- Director: Gene Stupnitsky
- Screenwriters: Gene Stupnitsky & John Phillips
- Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Andrew Barth Feldman, Laura Benanti, Natalie Morales, Matthew Broderick
- Producers: Alex Saks, Naomi Odenkirk, Marc Provissiero, Jennifer Lawrence, Justine Ciarrocchi
- Executive producers: Kerry Orent, John Phillips
- Cinematography: Eigil Bryld
- Production design: Russell Barnes
- Costume design: Kirston Mann
- Editing: Brent White
- Music: Mychael Danna, Jessica Rose Weiss
- Sound: Dane Lonsdale, sound mixer
- Production companies: Columbia Pictures, Saks Picture Company, Odenkirk Provissiero Entertainment, Excellent Cadaver
- In English, 103 minutes