Long live the R-rated and theatrically released comedy. In the 1980s, as well as the 1990s and even the 2000s, these were staples of cinema. These days, they’re few and far between, relegated mostly to the streaming world or VOD, if they get made at all. So, the mere existence of No Hard Feelings is something to celebrate. Luckily, it’s also a damn funny and surprisingly heartfelt film as well. They don’t make ’em like this anymore, that’s for sure…but they should.
No Hard Feelings is a good movie made better by the absolutely committed central turn from Jennifer Lawrence. We all know she’s an amazing dramatic actress, and she’s done comedy before at times within films, but this is her first full-on comedy. She absolutely aces it, leaning in and embracing the raunch. Moreover, she elevates the light drama aspects. Without question, she’s the best thing about the flick, which is wildly entertaining, if occasionally uneven.
Maddie Barker (Lawrence) is a Montauk bartender and Uber driver on the brink of losing her home. The house is her late mother’s and holds a special connection to Maddie, so she’s determined never to let that happen. The only problem is, she owes the bank money and they’ve taken her car as temporary collateral. Without a vehicle, she’s just tending bar and about to be homeless at the end of the summer. While with her pregnant friend Sara (Natalie Morales) and her husband Jim (Scott MacArthur), they stumble across an ad that could solve her problems. Helicopter parents Laird Becker (Matthew Broderick) and Allison Becker (Laura Benanti) looking for someone to bring their introverted 19-year-old son out of his shell before he starts at Princeton in the fall. They’re hoping for that to happen in more than one manner, with the payment being a Buick. Maddie is in, though she’s not prepared for the task at hand.
The Becker’s son is Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman), a sweet young man but someone absolutely befuddled by Maddie’s advances when she arranges a meet cute. Keeping her motivation under wraps, she comes on strong. Too strong, in fact, leading to some wild antics. It’s only when she slows down to closer to his pace and gets to know him that they actually bond. As the summer progresses, her plan to bed him and get her car is thrown for a wrench not just by his falling for her, but by her genuine feelings of affection for him. The obligatory complications ensue.
This is immediately one of my favorite Jennifer Lawrence performances. It won’t get the attention of her Oscar-winning work in Silver Linings Playbook, but like her underrated turns in The Beaver, Like Crazy, and mother!, there’s more here than meets the eye. When she’s asked to go big and funny, she’s hilarious. When the script gets earnest and even serious, she’s right there with it. This is the sort of star turn you love to see from an A-lister. Andrew Barth Feldman is definitely a find as well, as he’s incredibly funny. The two have lovely chemistry together that grows as the film progresses. They’re the highlights, though Matthew Broderick and Natalie Morales get amusing moments as well. The supporting cast, in addition to Laura Benanti and Scott MacArthur, includes Hasan Minhaj, Kyle Mooney, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, and more.
Co-writer and director Gene Stupnitsky is a cinematic saint for keeping this sort of comedy alive. Bad Teacher and Good Boys have prepared him for this one, where the jokes land more consistently, while the heart beats louder. Along with co-writer John Phillips, Stupnitsky leans in to the R-rating. However, he also leans in to the legitimate drama and emotions when called to. There’s a seriousness to the locals vs. out-of-towners vibe, while the characters’ pain is palpable. Now, not everything works, including a third act comedic sequence involving a car going into the ocean, but the biggest laughs are among the loudest you’ll hear in a theater all year. Armed with Lawrence, Phillips and Stupnitsky let her cook, with the resulting meal being delicious.
No Hard Feelings isn’t perfect, but it does so much more right than wrong, it’s impossible not to be charmed by the film and want to recommend it. Lawrence fans will enjoy seeing a new side of her, while those of you who have missed this sort of R-rated comedy will be enraptured. Sometimes, you just want to laugh at a fun comedy that concentrates entirely on your enjoyment. This is one of those, and boy, does it do the trick!