Jennifer Lawrence starring in a $45M sex comedy in 2023? Who had this on this BINGO card?
The simple reality is that No Hard Feelings is a novelty. There’s a dearth of sex comedies nowadays; it’s a bygone subgenre, particularly when you consider the continued (read: tired) online dialogue about whether sex is “necessary” in films, or – in the case of this movie specifically – the argument that Jennifer Lawrence‘s Maddie Barker is pursuing an underage teen boy.
These reactions are histrionic and uninformed. Anyone remotely aware of the plot of director Gene Stupnitsky‘s film (he co-wrote the movie with John Phillips) knows that Andrew Barth Feldman‘s Percy Becker is a 19 year old adult. Yes, there’s a significant age gap between the two characters, but it’s also a fact that the film makes early and often. The reality is this: if Maddie and Percy want to fuck, they are both consenting adults.
Age difference is less of an issue than the fact that No Hard Feelings is only 50% a sex comedy. The first half is a pretty uproarious broad comedy, while the back half is a familiar (albeit watchable) feel good life lesson narrative.
The film opens with Maddie in danger of losing her mother’s home due to gentrification. This is because she lives in a cute beach town where the property taxes have skyrocketed thanks to wealthy vacationers like the Beckers. So despite owning her house outright, Maddie can’t keep up with her bills.
After her car is repossessed and she can no longer Uber for a living, Maddie answers a personal ad from helicopter parents Laird (Matthew Broderick) and Allison (Laura Benanti). They’re looking for an attractive young woman to bring their son out of his shell before he heads to Princeton in the fall. In exchange for deflowering their son, Laird and Allison will give Maddie a car, which will allow her to retain her financial independence.
Physical comedy pratfalls and hilarious misunderstandings ensue.
Naturally Percy can’t know about the ruse, so Maddie has to make the relationship look real. This means that their first meeting is a fake meet cute at the animal rescue shelter where Percy volunteers (alongside scene stealer Jordan Mendoza as co-worker Crispin). Despite Maddie’s repeated attempts to initiate sex, secure the car and bolt (she has relationship issues), Percy insists that they get to know each other first. This instigates no shortage of dates wherein (sexy) comedy shenanigans ensue, including a failed skinny dipping excursion, no less than two destroyed cars, and a Princeton party wherein Maddie makes a series of social media gaffes.
The premise is both utterly ridiculous and (if you know any contemporary parents) completely feasible. It’s also the kind of outrageous premise that harkens back to the broad comedies of the 80s, when sex comedies and risqué content was far more common. Comparisons to Risky Business are apt, as are Cameron Diaz’s R-rated comedies like Bad Teacher or The Sweetest Thing.
Like those films, the lead’s rough exterior and difficulty relating to others is little more than a protective shield to disguise their own insecurities. It’s a tried and true formula, though No Hard Feelings loses a great deal of momentum (and nearly all of its jokes) when it moves into the back half of the film and Maddie begins to soften.
Credit Stupnitsky and Phillips, however, for infusing a small dose of class critique in the narrative. In addition to Maddie’s situation, her partnered, expecting friends Sarah (Natalie Morales) and Jim (Scott MacArthur) are in a similar financial situation where they can no longer afford to live in Montauk. They may joke that her deal with the Beckers is tantamount to sex work, but there’s an implied suggestion that Maddie’s actions are a form of class revenge against the rich folks who have ruined the community for locals.
The class critique is admittedly only a small portion of the film, but it does inform most of Maddie’s (early) actions. It’s not, however, the main thrust of the film, which aims primarily for guffaws (in the first half) before targeting the heart with a little more emotional schmaltz (in the second half).
No Hard Feelings was always going to end on an uplifting note with a reassuring life lesson; that’s simply what these films do. It’s not a bad thing, but the film is ultimately less successful and even a little stilted when it drops the comedy for heart.
Perhaps it’s that the back half feels too much like a predictable rom com (minus the romance since it’s evident early on that Maddie and Percy won’t fall in love or wind up together).
Perhaps it’s that Lawrence is so game for everything that the film asks of her, including some truly hilarious physical comedy (throwing herself on car hoods, beating up people fully nude, getting punched in the neck) that it’s almost disappointing when the film humanizes her for a conventional feel good ending.
None of this is bad per se…but the first half is definitely more fun.
The Bottom Line: Come for the bawdy sex jokes, stay for the heartwarming life lessons and the cocaine rescue dog. 3/5
No Hard Feelings is now in theaters