No Hard Feelings (2023)

by - June 22nd, 2023 - Movie Reviews


Politically Incorrect Sex Farce No Hard Feelings a Raunchy Delight

Montauk isn’t what it used to be. Wealthy seasonal residents from New York City have made it almost impossible for locals to live in their small oceanside town year-round, driving up property taxes and buying up modest family homes only to bulldoze them into the ground and build modern architectural monstrosities in their place. But Maddie Barker (Jennifer Lawrence), Montauk born and raised, isn’t having any of it, and she’s going to do whatever is necessary to save the small house she’s lived in for her entire life.

No Hard Feelings (2023) | PHOTO: Sony

Financial salvation comes in the form of helicopter parents Laird (Matthew Broderick) and Allison Becker (Laura Benanti). They need someone to “date” their introverted 19-year-old son Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman) before he heads off to Princeton at the end of the summer. They’re worried he’s too socially ill-equipped to handle adult life on his own, and they think a woman like Maddie is the perfect person to help him burst out of his shell before plunging into the collegiate ocean, and they’re willing to give her a brand-new car if she’s able to “educate” him properly.

No Hard Feelings co-writer and director Gene Stupnitsky sowed his cinematic oats with 2019’s rambunctious Good Boys, and his latest R-rated slice of comedic nonsense is frankly more of the same. But with Lawrence starring and a better, more emotionally astute screenplay as the film’s foundation, the filmmaker’s sophomore outing is a strong one. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments sprinkled throughout. Better, they are built around two well-drawn characters worth caring about, so even when things get obnoxiously uncouth or the jokes fail to land, Maddie and Percy are so gosh-darn likable that this isn’t too big of a problem.

While Lawrence has certainly showcased her goofy side in several of her previous performances — most notably her Oscar-winning turn in Silver Linings Playbook, and then again in 2013’s American Hustle and 2021’s Don’t Look Up — she has never headlined a full-blown comedy. Shame, because she’s marvelous. Lawrence utilizes her lithe physicality to magnificent effect, and she can bend a tongue-twisting turn of phrase sideways before flipping it completely upside down with carnivorously jovial enthusiasm.

But while it’s clear she has a blast cutting loose, Lawrence still brings a hardened, almost haunted gravitas to the story that frequently caught me off guard. There’s a sublime moment where Maddie is listening to Percy deliver an impromptu performance of a Hall & Oates classic at a fancy restaurant, and Lawrence unleashes a tsunami of emotional nuances as her character processes the meaning behind the lyrics. It’s a stupendous scene, one where the full weight of all of the various themes Stupnitsky and co-writer John Phillips (Dirty Grandpa) have been flirting with finally breaks through to the surface, and it’s all due to Lawrence.

Newcomer Feldman mostly holds his own. The youngster is essentially portraying a 1980s teenage archetype straight out of a John Hughes scenario, but with a Gen-Z, social media-age twist. Percy has built himself a secluded bunker where he can live his life behind an online firewall that keeps him purposefully cut off from his high school classmates. He’s socially awkward both out of fear of being publicly shamed by his peers and because his smothering parents monitor his every move. These are genuine, instantly relatable worries, and Feldman does a fine job of giving them life.

No Hard Feelings (2023) | PHOTO: Sony

Where the film struggles is in maintaining a consistent pace and in satisfactorily resolving its most important moral complications. The central conceit is supposed to come off as a little bit unconscionable, and Stupnitsky does not shy away from what it is Laird and Allison are contracting Maddie to accomplish. But the scenario he and Phillips have concocted doesn’t always know how to balance the inherent nastiness of this situation with the somewhat melodramatic sweetness and levity it also wants to traffic in. The scenes after the curtain has been pulled back and the truth is stripped naked don’t always work, and the narrative contrivances required to get to the requisite happy ending are only moderately satisfying.

Even so, I still had a terrific time watching No Hard Feelings. The supporting cast is strong, there are plenty of wonderful set pieces, and Lawrence throws herself into all this ribald madness with gleefully intoxicating abandon. People complain that major studios don’t make uncouth, politically incorrect sex comedies like they used to; this is a prime, well-made example of what the genre can deliver if talented craftspeople come together to deliver their best collective efforts. Here’s hoping Stupnitsky’s latest is a moderate enough of a success that we get more like it made with the same care and skill in the future.

– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle

Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)

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