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Review: No Hard Feelings – “An enjoyable, easy watch”

Films like American Pie, Superbad and The 40 Year Old Virgin were staples back in the late 90s and early 2000s.  With a few exceptions, these raunchy sex comedies surged during that time period and then somewhat fell out of favour.  As studios, in general, concentrate their efforts on big blockbuster tentpoles, finding a good comedy offering at the theatre can be a challenge these days.  But, writer-director Gene Stupnitsky tries to bring back the sex comedy, (full) front(al) and centre, in his second feature No Hard Feelings.

And thank goodness he teams up with the hilarious Jennifer Lawrence, who we saw last in 2022’s Causeway, a much different (and acclaimed) project that landed her co-star Brian Tyree Henry a much-deserved Oscar.  Lawrence is easily, and unsurprisingly, the best thing about No Hard Feelings and she brings some much-needed vivacity and presence to a film that could have easily fallen flat without her.  

Lawrence plays Maddie, a 30-something woman working multiple jobs to try and keep up with the steadily increasing property taxes on her deceased mother’s home which she desperately wants to save from the clutches of the outside rich folk that invade Montauk every summer season.  When her car gets repossessed due to her debts, the part-time Uber driver answers a want ad in the paper that leads her to meet Laird (Matthew Broderick) and Allison (Laura Benanti).  

Their 19-year-old son Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman) is headed to Princeton in the fall, but he barely leaves his room.  He doesn’t go to parties, he doesn’t drink, he doesn’t date.  His parents worry that without any social experience, Princeton will be a disaster, so they hire Maddie to date him, in exchange for a Buick that can get her back on the road and make money to save her home.  As one might expect, especially considering their age gap, things don’t necessarily go smoothly.  As it turns out, they both have some growing up to do.

Stupnitsky, who also directed and co-wrote the 2019 comedy Good Boys, doesn’t really add anything new to the genre.  The plot is entirely predictable and you know where you’re headed the entire watch.  Yet, there is a surprising amount of heart at the centre of No Hard Feelings, something the trailers hid from view, unlike many of the film’s best jokes.  It’s a sentiment symbolized in the film by a dollar store finger trap – something you can’t escape by pulling away.  As Percy and Maddie go through their own journeys of growth, they each have to learn to lean in and push through.  

No Hard Feelings won’t join the upper rankings of the comedy genre, but it’s an enjoyable, easy watch, perfect for a lazy summer afternoon.  Perhaps with a game audience, laughs will be more contagious, but it was certainly more sporadic chuckles in the theatre I was in, rather than laugh-out-loud moments.  

The one thing that does come out of this film is the indisputable fact that Jennifer Lawrence needs to do more comedy, another skill she can add to her considerable resume.  Her timing and delivery are spot on, and she demonstrates a next-level commitment to the physical comedy, especially in one scene that is probably one of the more wild and shocking moments of 2023 cinema so far.  It’s fun to see Lawrence embrace this aspect of her performance range and we will all certainly be lucky if she continues to do so.  

No Hard Feelings is released in theatres June 23 in North America and opened June 21 in the UK.

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