No Hard Feelings

When a friend’s husband questions Maddie’s (Jennifer Lawrence) consideration of a Craigslist ad offering a car in exchange for ‘dating’ a couple’s nineteen year-old son, she observes ‘I’ve had a one night stand before and got no Buick Regals for it.’  But the intelligent yet introverted Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman, Broadway’s ‘Dear Evan Hansen’) proves oddly impervious to Maddie’s charms in “No Hard Feelings.”

Laura's Review: B

Cowriter (with John Phillips)director Gene Stupnitsky (“Good Boys”) was inspired by two things – the desire to work with his friend Jennifer Lawrence and a real life Craigslist ad posted by a mother looking for a young woman to seduce her college-bound son.  The concept sounded somewhat repellant, but what a surprise to find Jennifer Lawrence excelling in an R-rated raunchy rom-com.  Not everything works, but Lawrence and her costar Feldman develop genuine emotion out of crude comedy cloth.

When we meet Maddie, she’s barely dressed, having run out of her house to confront one of her exes, Gary (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), who’s about to repossess her car for failure to pay property taxes on the modest Montauk Cape she inherited from her mom.  She tries to win him over with claims that she only ghosted him because her deep feelings for him made her panic, but as she’s embracing him, he’s witnessing the buff semi-clad Italian dude who’s flexing outside of her front door and we’ve just learned a lot about Maddie.

She’s a townie who resents the rich summer folk whose gentrification of her home town is forcing folk like her out (we’ll learn of a more personal resentment later on) and she’s determined to stay put.  But as she was barely eking out a living as a bartender and Uber driver and her latter income has just been squelched, she convinces Allison and Laird Becker (an eager-to-please Laura Benanti and trying-to-be-hip Matthew Broderick) that although she may be older than what they were looking for, she has the maturity and sensitivity for the job.  They point her toward the local animal shelter where Percy volunteers so she can ‘run into’ him.

Clad in a skin tight mini and platform heels, Maddie is one overt come-on (‘Can I touch your Weiner?’ is her first double entendre flung at the flustered teen).  After convincing him to accept a ride home, he balks at the sight of her (borrowed) box van, later macing her for kidnapping intent.  Somehow this all evolves into plans for an actual date.  That gets even crazier, Maddie insisting on skinny dipping at a closed beach (Percy, who knows his parents track him via his phone, is all about adherence to rules), only to attack three drunk college kids who try to steal their clothes while entirely nude.  She’ll also drive off with the protesting nude Percy clinging to the hood of her car, but when she zips through a closing train crossing with a cop on her heels, he seems exhilarated by the experience and they begin to genuinely click.

So, what sells itself as a raunchy sex comedy is really about a nineteen and thirty-two year-old helping each other to grow up and forging an honest friendship while doing so.  The typical romcom conventions of opposites initially repelling, then attracting before a third act obstacle, the equally clichéd discovery of a dishonest setup, all apply here, but a solid ensemble, a few sharp insights and some solid laughs make this one a winner.  The casting of Percy’s former nanny alone is a hoot and Lawrence makes the move from aggressive seductress to someone who finds herself caring with physical slapstick moves along the way just as believably as Feldman morphs from clueless rabbit to hurt confidence (he wows both us and Maddie performing Hall and Oates’ ‘Maneater’ at a restaurant’s piano on a dare).   Natalie Morales and Scott MacArthur add both local flavor and amusing sounding board as Maddie’s friends just as Benanti and Broderick’s benevolent helicopter parenting helps take the sting out of their actions.           

Not all of the jokes land (A cocaine addicted former drug enforcement dog?), many are too broad (although a third act one involving a finger trap manages to be both raunchy and sentimental) and Maddie’s ultimate decision doesn’t necessarily make sense, but “No Hard Feelings” is a great platform for Lawrence’s comedic skills and Broadway star Feldman’s cinematic launch.

Sony opens "No Hard Feelings" in theaters on 6/23/23.