No Hard Feelings initially appears like a horrible concept, just like most humorous stories. In this film, Jennifer Lawrence plays the lead for the first time in a straight comedy and spends over 103 minutes trying to woo a shy 19-year-old for money. It’s also hysterically entertaining and a wonderful reminder of J-Law’s talent for illuminating a screen.
Lawrence portrays Maddie Barker, a character who has spent her entire life in Montauk and is attempting to remain there. Maddie relies on odd jobs to get by while struggling to pay the property taxes on the house she inherited from her late mother. She eventually loses her automobile due to failure to pay those bills as well. With no automobile, there can be no Uber driving and no tourist spending money. But Maddie has discovered a very unorthodox way to get new wheels: a couple of affluent parents who are willing to donate a car to a decent girl who will sleep with their disabled son before he leaves for college.
The premise of No Hard Feelings toes the limit of acceptable taste on paper but in reality is too sweet to ever be considered subversive or excessively filthy. Having a hookup with a 19-year-old is not a big deal to Maddie because she is a hot mess who enjoys mending fences and doesn’t care much about social graces. Unfortunately, the aforementioned youngster, Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman), is too shy and kind to accept any of Maddie’s approaches, so she must win him over in order for him to remain unaware that his parents orchestrated the entire situation.
When Maddie tries to woo a lad who is too afraid of everything to even notice he’s being hit on, the sex comedy gives way to a tale of an unexpected friendship. To get Percy to open up sexually, she must compete in a decathlon of humiliation, which includes being maced, beating some robbers into submission while nude, and having her ass set on fire while she hangs to a car’s hood, among other things. However, the real subject of No Hard Feelings is the need for Percy and Maddie to express their emotions in order to get out of the ruts they are both unwilling to admit they are in.
No Hard Feelings serves mostly as a reminder of Lawrence’s remarkable comic timing. Lawrence shot to fame as a result of his iconic dramatic performances in Winter’s Bone, Silver Linings Playbook, and the Hunger Games series. Lawrence is funny in several registers, and the entire movie is held together by her magnetic presence. Whether it’s the physical comedy of Maddie’s over-the-top come-ons, her snappy and sweary put-downs directed towards ex-boyfriends and other teenagers, or her barely simmering rage at the rich vacationers that flood her hometown every year.
Not that the remainder of the movie is uninteresting. The rest of the cast, including his overbearing parents (Matthew Broderick and Laura Benanti) and his still-present nanny (Kyle Mooney), fuss over a young man who doesn’t want to be fussed over but can’t figure out how to face the world on his own. Feldman holds his own in the straight man role, an excellent foil to Lawrence’s antics and the doe-eyed centre for the rest of the cast to orbit around.
Lawrence, though, makes the strongest case for No Hard Feelings. While the third part of the movie suffers from the movie’s preference for sweetness over raunch, Lawrence’s performance keeps everything together with genuine heart. As Maddie, she doesn’t want to smooth over a tough character’s rough edges; instead, she wants to illustrate how that character learns to accept their difficulty.
With No Hard Feelings being just her third movie in the last four years, Jennifer Lawrence’s early 2020s have been rather quiet in comparison to her prior production. It’s also been a slow period for large, R-rated studio comedies, a genre that has had trouble sticking out in the sea of franchise films the way horror films have. But it’s not required to be. Sometimes all you need for a good time is a fantastic actor and a story that appears really stupid.