Asking any movie lover to name a favorite comedy is an invitation into chaos: Jackass! Ghostbusters! Some Kate Hudson movie. Asking a critic that same question is an invitation for, let’s face it, long-established classics (It Happened One Night), masterworks (Dazed and Confused), and whatever Wes Anderson has just delivered. (We can all agree on The Big Lebowski, right? Good.) My favorite film of all time is Billy Wilder’s classic dark Hollywood satire Sunset Blvd., which is a long way from my dad’s all-timer, National Lampoon’s Vacation. No Hard Feelings, which stars Jennifer Lawrence as a thirty-something out to score a working vehicle by “scoring” with an awkward nineteen-year-old, is firmly in the “not classic” category. But darn it all, the laughs come hard, and, surprisingly, so do well-earned emotions.
After Maddie (Lawrence) has her car repossessed by her ex Gary (The Bear‘s Ebon Moss-Bachrach), she’s suddenly an Uber driver with no ride. Worse, her bartending job will not be enough to pay off the taxes on the home her mom left her in the beachside town of Montauk, NY. She’s lived there her whole life, and despite the awful rich jerks that visit in the summer, it’s still a home she can’t imagine leaving.
When her longtime bestie, Sarah (Natalie Morales), sees a curious help wanted ad, Maddie’s future might be okay after all. Instead of money, the employer offers an old but in “good shape” Buick. The catch, as the father, Laird (Matthew Broderick), and mother, Allison (Laura Benati), explain, is they want her to “date” their son, Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman). He’s the shy and awkward type. His only friends are online. You get it. Percy will be attending Princeton in the fall, so the parents want him to get out of his shell. That, of course, means losing his virginity.
Like Charlize Theron’s character in Young Adult, Maddie is a hot mess by way of a big Hollywood movie variety. Whether it’s her phobia of commitment or her rage-filled (but always funny) bouts with locals and visitors, Maddie just can’t get out of her own way. Her “plan” to seduce Percy to acquire the car is terrible. But it’s the kind of ill-conceived affair that works in a broad comedy like No Hard Feelings.
Part of the reason for this are the well-executed situations concocted by director Gene Stupnitsky (Good Boys) and co-writer John Phillips (Dirty Grandpa). That said, like with Young Adult, the film largely succeeds because of its star. Jennifer Lawrence has been plenty spontaneous and hilarious before (see: Silver Linings Playbook), but this is definitely a bigger laughs-per-minute kind of script, and she 100% delivers.
Newcomer Andrew Barth Feldman is a real find too. Yes, he pulls off the neurotic, naive vibe well, but more impressive is his range. Percy is a well-fleshed-out young man, as the film develops from raunchy to heartwarming in the second half of its 103-minute runtime. We may be in his corner (as we are with Maddie), but like Maddie, he also can’t get out of his own way. That dynamic is very much a sitcom character conflict. However, as someone who’s watched Frasier in its entirety many times, I do not mean that as an insult. Think of it this way — back in the day, some critics bagged on James L. Brooks’ spectacular Broadcast News since Brooks came from sitcoms. Whatever. The writing works for the film.
The supporting cast, like Broderick as Percy’s pop, all deliver solid work. There may not be a standout à la Bille Lourd in Booksmart. Still, comedian Scott MacArthur has fun moments alongside Morales as a couple expecting their first child. Essentially, they treat their oldest friend Maddie like their all-too-grown-up child, which is an amusing dynamic.
As much as I enjoyed No Hard Feelings, the film is not, for lack of better phrasing, a cinematic marvel. The compositions by cinematographer Eigil Bryld (Deep Water), whether taking in the landscape of a seaside town or the eagerness of Percy’s face, are mostly just okay. Even the editing by Brent White (Last Christmas), a key ingredient for comedic timing, is often slack instead of sharp when it’s not highlighting a big raunchy set piece. (A nude brawl on the beach suffers from weird hazy CGI.)
Yet, for anyone that sees this movie at a certain point in their life, it could easily become a favorite. Again, think Wedding Crashers, Legally Blonde, etc. Comedies that can’t entirely transcend their eras to become nostalgic fodder as we get older.
No Hard Feelings is not an instant classic and doesn’t need to be. What Lawrence delivers in terms of charisma, inventive choices, and daring physicality, alongside Feldman, are more than enough to keep the jokes sharp and the emotions strong. Should you see it in a theater? I’d say yes, as the R-rated hijinx works better with a lively crowd. If that’s not your thing, this could be a fun rental. Either way, it’s got the raunchy laughs and the heart to go with it.