Raunchy comedies are nothing new, initially hitting a peak in popularity in the 70s with movies like National Lampoon’s Animal House and Porky’s, through the ensuing decades with Revenge of the Nerds, There’s Something About Mary, and the first Scary Movie. The new millennium saw the form hit new highs with the added clever dialogue and genuine pathos of Judd Apatow hits like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up and the films his work inspired (and that he often also produced) like Superbad and Bridesmaids. Alas, audiences’ taste for such fare has since been on a decline, though whether that has to do with genre fatigue or the residual effects of Covid lockdowns on movie theaters is hard to say. Director Gene Stupnitsky (The Office, Good Boys) and co-writer John Phillips’ (Dirty Grandpa) No Hard Feelings marketed itself as another attempt to revive the genre, though viewers will find that this is largely a very different sort of movie.
Maddie (Jennifer Lawrence) is a struggling bartender and Uber driver in Montauk, New York. Having fallen behind on the taxes for the home she inherited from her mother her car gets impounded, putting a serious damper on her ability to earn the money she needs. Desperate for a solution, she stumbles upon a Craigslist post looking for a young woman to “date” their awkward and introverted 19-year-old son Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman) in exchange for a used Buick Regal. While understandably wary of the unusual proposition, Maddie still responds and skates her way out to the sprawling home of Laird and Allison Becker (Matthew Broderick and Laura Benanti). They explain that they want to see Percy come out of his shell before heading to Princeton in the Fall, afraid that his complete lack of experience with any of the usual teenage rites of passage will leave him at a disadvantage in college.
Upon being hired by his parents, Maddie heads to the animal shelter where Percy volunteers and sets about trying to seduce him, with unsurprisingly limited results. She does ultimately get him to take her on a date (it would have been a short movie otherwise), and so they embark on a series of comic adventures during the course of which they begin to bond and develop genuine affection for one another. The secret that Maddie was hired to do all of this hangs in the air, threatening to tear the pair apart and also completely negate the point of her being hired in the first place.
The movie is surprisingly sweet, and the chemistry between the two leads makes their growing friendship completely believable. It’s also nice to see Lawrence allowed to exercise her comedy chops, which she only rarely gets to do, and Feldman proves capable of matching her beat for beat. Aside from a few very R-rated set pieces however, this is not really the sort of movie it was sold as. Worse still is that none of those is particularly memorable in the way key moments from the movies mentioned earlier are. There is some amusing dialogue, especially between Maddie’s married couple friends Sara (Natalie Morales) and Jim (Scott MacArthur), but cameos by comics Kyle Mooney and Hasan Minhaj feel wasted, as does The Bear‘s Ebon Moss-Bachrach as Maddie’s ex Gary. The script touches on gentrification and the class divide, but shies away from making any statements about either, though the themes of self-acceptance are always welcome, if hardly original. Viewers will have a fun time with No Hard Feelings, due especially to the overqualified cast, but it’s unlikely they’ll be calling for a second date. ★★★
rated r for sexual content, language, some graphic nudity, and brief drug use.
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor