Judd Apatow would have crushed the gimmick behind “No Hard Feelings” … had he directed it in 2006.
Back then, Apatow was coming off his breakout hit, “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” and the culture embraced hard-R comedies with a sentimental side.
Apatow’s comedy instincts have faded over time, and “problematic” jokes now get nixed before the first draft.
That leaves “No Hard Feelings” in a pickle. It’s neither as outrageous as needed, nor the finely tuned character study it desperately wants to be.
Jennifer Lawrence stars as Maddie, a terrible person in a terrible bind. She needs to make enough cash via Uber to save her family home, but her car just got impounded by an old boyfriend.
What’s a gal to do?
Luckily, she reads a Help Wanted ad seeking a 20-something woman to “date” a rich couple’s 19-year-old son. Young Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman) is going to Princeton in the fall, but he’s never been intimate with a woman, has few friends and spends all day playing video games.
His parents (including a bored Matthew Broderick) want him to come out of his shell, thus the outrageous job opening.
Maddie lunges at the offer, but wooing Percy won’t be so easy.
The head-scratching starts early in “No Hard Feelings,” as do the grating woke asides.
A male character is repeatedly dressed down and told he’s not allowed to talk about women’s issues. A Native American character, introduced early and ignored the rest of the way (Inclusion alert!), lets Maddie whine about rich people ad nauseam.
“These people use us, why can’t we use them?”
Lawerence is a millionaire many times over, but her character keeps railing against the rich as if it’s the star/producer’s way of saying, see? I’m just like you.
Watching Maddie insult a rich patron for requesting a drink minutes before the bar opens isn’t speaking truth to power. It’s being a [bleep].
Her anti-rich posture is as lame as her struggle up a massive flight of stairs on rollerblades. Anyone with two brain cells knows you take the blades off first. Director/co-writer Gene Stopnitsky (the superior “Good Boys”) needs that visual gag so badly he’ll step on common sense to grab it.
Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence, who leads her first major comedy in “No Hard Feelings,” says “it really is hard to make a comedy where you’re not offending people.” https://t.co/vRyGcFj8Ps
— Variety (@Variety) June 21, 2023
“No Hard Feelings” gratefully ditches the monologuing to get to the main story. Can Maddie make a man out of Percy, or will the teen’s moral compass teach Maddie the error of her ways?
Maddie is self-centered, sex-starved and just plain unpleasant. We’re supposed to care that she could lose her childhood home, but audiences will shrug at her plight. That even Lawrence can’t rally us to her side speaks volumes of the screenplay, a malnourished affair that fails its tacky premise.
We know Percy will blossom at some point, but his transformation is so jarring, so poorly executed, it robs us of seeing him become a man. He also ditches his rule-following mania in short order, another whiplash moment.
The jokes miss more than they hit, and even when they land it’s but a grazing blow. One sequence finds Lawrence fully committing to both nudity and comic violence. It should be a corker, the movie’s signature moment that you’ll be talking about on the way home from the theater.
Instead, you marvel at an Oscar winner slumming it for cheap yuks.
Worst of all, the story makes little sense from scene to scene. One moment Percy is willing to risk everything to date Maddie. The next? He’s ignoring her to flirt with a classmate, his dating skills suddenly firing on all cylinders.
A subplot involving Maddie’s missing father figure goes nowhere … why bring it up in the first place?
“No Hard Feelings” occasionally shines thanks to Lawrence’s undeniable star power. Give her a withering insult and she’ll nail like few of her peers. The comedy still isn’t raucous enough to live up to its premise, nor sensitively told to let us care about the cloying, third-act resolutions.
HiT or Miss: “No Hard Feelings” proves Jennifer Lawrence will try almost anything to make us laugh, but she forgot to channel her inner Apatow to prove it.