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NO HARD FEELINGS (2023) review

June 30, 2023


written by: Gene Stupnitsky and John Phillips
produced by: Alex Saks, Naomi Odenkirk, Marc Provissiero, Jennifer Lawrence & Justine Ciarrocchi
directed by: Gene Stupnitsky
rated: R (for sexual content, language, some graphic nudity and brief drug use)
runtime: 103 min.
U.S. release date: June 23, 2023


A raunchy R-rated comedy starring Jennifer Lawrence? Sign me up! Yeah, that’s what went through my head while watching the trailer for “No Hard Feelings, the hilarious feature written by John Phillips and Gene Stupnitsky (who also directs, his follow-up to “Good Boys”), and it’s the kind of summer movie that has sadly been missing lately. Amid all the expected sequels, requels, and remakes, it’s refreshing to see an R-rated comedy headlined by someone who hasn’t gotten a shot at the genre yet, but considering her pedigree you just know she can pull it off. Lawrence brings her acute comic-timing and formidable sass to her character, along with some surprising venerable nuances. She’s a blast to watch in a movie with absurdities that run throughout sincere and silly moments.

Maddie Barker (Lawrence) works as an Uber driver and as a bartender on a marina in Montauk, New York, where she’s lived since she was a kid. When her car is repossessed by an old (and older) flame, Gary (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) due to her outstanding property taxes on the quaint home her late mother left her, the 32-year-old is out of her main source of income. Desperate to scramble same cash together, she answers a strange local Craigslist ad that’s looking for a twentysomething girl to date a 19-year-old young man in exchange for a Buick Regal. Maddie figures why not and arranges a meet-up, rollerblading her way to the fancy home of Allison (Laura Bennett) and Laird (Matthew Broderick), two aloof helicopter parents who’ve coddled their reclusive 19-year-old son, Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman), and now want to get him ready for Princeton.



They want him to experience more than just his bedroom and his phone before going off to university and feel that the best way would be for a young woman to date him, to help him come out of his shell. It’s doubtful that they’ve asked him what he wants. They seem like the type of parents who just do things for their son, without his input. When Maddie asks for clarification on dating him, they confirm she has to “date” him, meaning pop his cherry. Yes, that’s right. Maddie has to verify this request with them and it turns out they do indeed mean what they are implying. Why not just hire a sex worker? Well, that’d be too obvious. Apparently, they want all this to be natural, with no suspicions of their involvement. Maddie agrees. What could go wrong right?

The only aspect of this deal that goes naturally is how Maddie hilariously misreads so many things at just about every turn. She slinks her way into the animal shelter where Percy works and awkwardly introduces herself using sex appeal, wrongly assuming that any 19-year-old boy will succumb to her feminine wiles. It’ll be the first of many misreads on Maddie’s part throughout the movie and many of them are equal parts awkward and funny.

“No Hard Feelings” finds its funniest moments during the various attempts by Maddie to “date” Percy. The standout is definitely an impromptu skinny-dipping scene in which Maddie strongly persuades Percy to undress and join her in the ocean. At first he comes up with all sorts of reasons not to join her and then asks, “Isn’t this how “Jaws” starts?” Inevitably, Percy joins her, but of course it winds up awkward. Things take a surprising turn when a trio of hooligans on the shoreline steal their clothes, causing Maddie to march out of the water in her birthday suit and pummel all three drunk thieves (think Viggo Mortensen’s bath house scene in “Eastern Promises”). It’s a shocking and hilarious action sequence, primarily because we’ve never seen Lawrence so “revealed” and it winds up being memorable because of how situational it is and not just for showing flesh in a sex scene.

Surprisingly, “No Hard Feelings” gradually shows there’s heart underneath all the failed seduction moments – thanks to a screenplay Stupnitsky and John Phillips that balances hilarious raunchy comedy and some vulnerable character beats – which definitely subverts our expectations for a raunchy R-rated sex comedy. Apart from the moment when Percy learns of the agreement between Maddie and his parents – an obvious moment that seems inevitable, but nevertheless cliche – the story maintains a solid sense of humor throughout, while slightly touching on an underlying plotline about how the wealthy have taken up residence amid those who’ve lived in what has become a destination for a vacation home all their lives (which is another storyline we’ve seen in other movies).



Percy has an understandable reluctance to succumb to Maddie, not just because she’s older or because this is just plain weird. It’s moreso because this isn’t exactly something he’s used to experiencing. The shy, introverted young man hasn’t encountering such an aggressive approach from any woman, regardless of age. Yes, he finds Maddie attractive, but literally doesn’t know what to do or what to make of her. Not to mention, he can’t understand why she’s pursuing him. Despite her desperation to acquire the Buick Regal and get back to her Uber cash flow, Maddie realizes she’ll have to change her approach. She sees that Percy isn’t some immature horndog and tries to recalibrate, knowing he’s more mature than most guys his age and has some understandable defenses. While an understanding develops between the two characters, Maddie must still contend with Percy eventually falling for her, which puts his educational future at risk.

By far, the draw of “No Hard Feelings” is seeing Lawrence headlining such material in this genre. The Oscar winner goes all in with stellar comic timing while taking her intense character seriously. She’s a blast to watch and her chemistry with newcomer Andrew Barth Feldman is immediately felt. Lawrence (who serves as a co-producer here) is the reason to see the comedy, but you’ll be taken aback by Barth Feldman as well. Before this movie, the 21-year-old actor/singer has spent most of his time on stage, in musicals such as “Dear Evan Hansen”, and he’s given the chance to showcase his musical skills here when Percy performs a memorable and appropriate cover of the Hall and Oates song “Maneater”. It’s a great moment that’s taken seriously and allows a chance for both actors to show a vulnerable side to their characters.

The supporting actors are mostly there for additional comedy relief in “No Hard Feelings” and they succeed to various degrees. Most prominently is Natalie Morales and Scott MacArthur, who play a married couple friend of Maddie’s, both of whom encourage her to go for it which may speak to their moral standings. Another friend of Maddie’s is Gabe Sawyer a Native American character played by Zahn McClarnon, who has one of movie’s great awkward interactions with Lawrence. Kyle Mooney has a weird bit part as Percy’s former nanny and stand-up comedian Hasan Minhaj has a cameo role as Doug Khan, a former high school classmate of Maddie’s who now sells real estate and is clamoring to put her house on the market.

There will definitely be critical opinions when it comes to the subject matter here with talk of sexual manipulation and grooming. I also understand the perspective of wondering how such a storyline would be received if the genders of the two leads were swapped. All I can say to that is at no point are the actions of Maddie or Percy’s parents defendable. All three display reprehensible behavior, but the fact that such an ad is listed and such an agreement is made is simply unbelievable and the fact that the plot came from a real Craigslist ad is a reminder that sometimes real life is stranger than fiction.

Ultimately, the laughs are big and often quite memorable, yet surprisingly enough what stands out the most with “No Hard Feelings” are the uncanny sweet moments between the two lead characters. This is a movie that on the outside could be easily scoffed at, but it shouldn’t be. I’ve seen a lot raunchier comedies and “No Hard Feelings” has more heart than most.






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