No Hard Feelings (2023)

Certain genres are beneficiaries of their films being seen with a packed sold-out theater. Genres like horror and comedies benefit the most followed by the big budget summer blockbuster or the latest comic-book adventure. For an R rated comedy like No Hard Feelings, having the punchline to its knockout joke hit and land with an entire theater creates a buzz that makes the theater going experience one of a kind. The same can be said when a jump scare happens in a horror film – every single person has the same sensation coursing through their veins at the same time. Nothing quite compares to hearing laughter from every corner of a theater because the main character is giving their best slapstick moment on screen.

Co-written by John Phillips and Gene Stupnitsky who the latter also serves as director, No Hard Feelings features a mix of situational humor and the slapstick variety. But it also has a big heart, one that grows with each scene that we are with these characters. Less raunchy than what the trailers make it out to be, Stupnitsky and Phillips offer a balance between the R-rated shenanigans and the friendship aspect that unexpectedly happens as the events unfold.

No Hard Feelings follows Maddie (Jennifer Lawrence), a 32-year-old millennial posing as a gen-zer in the midst of a crisis. She lives in Montauk, New York, a local, and is on the brink of losing her childhood home from unpaid taxes. To make matters worse, the county seizes her car – the very same car Maddie uses as an Uber driver during the peak summer months that Montauk is the busiest from vacationers. Maddie, her friend Sarah (Natalie Morales) and husband (Scott MacArthur) come across an ad from two desperate parents wishing to bring their introverted son Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman) out of his shell before going off to college at Princeton. The reward is a Buick, just the thing Maddie needs to save her moms home.

As plots go, there’s isn’t much to write home about, rarely does Stupnitsky and Phillips take a risk and even rarer does the film stick with it till the very end. When the writing leans more into situational humor, it’s followed by moments that mostly everyone has experienced. One that repeats itself involves with Maddie building a surfboard crib mobile that neither Sarah nor her husband are fond of. It lets the audience in on the secret while Maddie attempts to sell the idea.

Just one of the many usual tropes found in a comedy like this.

Another situational comedic moment that heavily featured some slapstick comes when Maddie and Percy are getting somewhat comfortable – the two decide to skinny dip, well, Maddie forcing Percy after several pleading protests. While the two are in the water, their clothes get taken by a trio of unnamed characters. Maddie storms out of the water only to attack the trio while completely naked. Bodies go flying and for a brief moment, the film unravels as the focus is taken away from the complex relationship that is beginning to take shape.

Upon our first introduction to Percy, breaking him out of his introverted shell may prove more tedious but Maddie is over-confident. All the usual over-sexualized tactics don’t work on Percy – he’s constant making comments about wearing the same shorts as Maddie and even complaining that she’s too heavy when getting a lap dance. “Would you rather bounce on my lap” Maddie asks him and cut to an awkward moment where Percy looks embarrassed as he bounces on Maddie’s leg. But there’s more to Percy than meets the eye. We learn something about him while opening up that his parents Matthew Broderick and Laura Benanti just don’t understand. They would rather pay someone to date their sons brains out than talk to him.

Therein lies a commentary on parenting. Percy comes from a wealthy family – growing up his closest friend was his caretaker, and the caretaker knows more about Percy then his parents. The commentary ends up being surface level at best with a real missed opportunity to be had about the disconnect in basic communication. Money can solve most things but not when it comes to understanding and listening to your kid. Percy has a personality and it’s on full display from Andrew Barth Feldman.

Andrew brings a quiet charisma to his role. Inside there’s an extrovert waiting to explode and all it takes is a little bit of small talk and personal question. Stubnitsky and Phillips put Andrew’s talent fully on display during a dinner scene where his personality shines through a piano performance. Both Percy and Maddie are at their most vulnerable moment together and it’s here that the aspect that Maddie was hired for no longer matters. Sex doesn’t make a person open up – it can help but it should never be the end all be all for a rite of passage into adulthood.

Coming off an emotionally driven performance in Causeway, Jennifer Lawrence provides the fireworks as the vessel for majority of the films humor. Lawrence in the role flexes her comedy muscles, proving she’s more than a dramatic actress. Her timing and delivery are on point throughout the 103-minute runtime.  She’s raunchy but doesn’t push the boundaries too far and with her talent, Lawrence gives Maddie some emotional depth. Depth that is once again surface level but as she begins to open up, there’s much to be desired. That said, there is nothing more satisfying than a throat punch payoff. Though it was shown in the trailers, the impact was still at its peak with added context behind it.

When all is said and done No Hard Feelings ends without providing much substance. However, with the right crowd, the film will instantly lift everyone’s spirit. There are more than plenty of  belly laughs to be had on screen, cliché’s and the chemistry between the 12-year age gap makes the dynamic between the two stars worth a trip to the theater. The ending doesn’t leave the story with unreal expectations for these two but instead opens the door for the real conversations to be had. All it takes is for someone to listen and for the one talking to be heard. That’s the recipe for a shell to be cracked and a person to come of age.

Screenplay By: John Phillips & Gene Stupnitsky

Directed By: Gene Stupnitsky

Music By: Mychael Danna & Jessica Rose Weiss

Cinematography: Eigil Bryld

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Andrew Barth Feldman, Matthew Broderick, Laura Benanti, Natalie Morales, Scott MacArthur, Ebon Moss-Bachrach

Edited By: Brent White

Release Date: June 23, 2023

Running Time: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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