No Hard Feelings is not necessarily a movie I would have expected Jennifer Lawrence to make. It’s a raunchy R-rated comedy that requires her to indulge in physical humor and even take part in a naked fight scene. The actress has dabbled in comedy amid her dramas and franchise entries. She’s never done anything like this, though. Seeing a whole other side of her talent is a treat. The movie has plenty of big bawdy laughs, many courtesy of her fearless performance.
Lawrence plays Maddie Barker, a commitment-phobic 32-year-old Uber driver who has never left her hometown of Montauk, New York. A series of brief flings provides all the romantic companionship she cares for. With her car repossessed and her home about to be foreclosed upon, Maddie is in dire financial straits. A way out presents itself via a Craigslist ad that offers a free Buick Regal in exchange for dating a 19-year-old boy. She meets with the parents, Laird and Allison Becker (Matthew Broderick and Laura Bernanti), who explain their fears that college-bound son Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman) is too timid in life to fully succeed. They make it clear that “dating” Percy means stripping him of his virginity.
A thirtysomething woman being compensated for her attempt to bed a teenage boy? No Hard Feelings is the kind of politically incorrect comedy Hollywood supposedly isn’t allowed to make anymore. Lawrence proves hilarious in the way she portrays Maddie’s desperate efforts to sleep with Percy. The young woman is used to seducing willing men. Tempting an awkward teen boy who’s simultaneously turned on and terrified by her is another matter. The bolder she goes, the more frightened he gets. Director/co-writer Gene Stupnitsky (Good Boys) devises a series of riotous interactions between the two characters.
Then the story evolves in a surprising way. Because she’s 13 years older, Maggie can’t help acting in an almost maternal manner toward Percy, even as she seeks to deflower him. He, meanwhile, may be younger than she is, but he’s also more mature, leading him to occasionally try to exert a positive influence on her. That dynamic produces additional laughs, as their roles become mixed-up, reversed, and intertwined. Neither individual has a firm grasp on their own identity, so the emotional complexity of the situation in which they find themselves grows hysterically complicated.
Jennifer Lawrence and Andrew Barth Feldman play beautifully off each other. The movie works to a large degree because they take a potentially controversial premise and invest it with humanity. Without that human factor, No Hard Feelings would be smarmy instead of funny. We can identify – or at least empathize – with the insecurities that drive Maddie and Percy. The script’s zingers hit harder and the embarrassing situations cut deeper.
Somewhat predictably, the last act ventures into sentimental territory. A bit of physical comedy in the finale seems far-fetched in comparison to everything else, too. No Hard Feelings is nevertheless consistently uproarious, with sharp characterization, witty dialogue, and an impressively gutsy turn from Jennifer Lawrence.
out of four
No Hard Feelings is rated R for sexual content, language, some graphic nudity, and brief drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 43 minutes.