No Hard Feelings is one of those comedies that doesn’t quite fit into any one box. It is clear from the title and the trailers that marketing painted it as a raunchy sex comedy. However, the end product elevates the film beyond that limited designation. Instead, we have a movie that has a surprising amount of heart. Fearless performances from leads Jennifer Lawrence and Andrew Barth Feldman make the film enjoyable. It is formulaic but unexpected. And it is funny to boot.
Maddie (Lawrence) is struggling to make ends meet in order to keep the house her deceased mother had left her. After the city repossesses her car, Maddie reluctantly answers an ad found on Craigslist. Helicopter parents Allison and Laird (Laura Benanti, Matthew Broderick) offer a Buick to whoever will “date” their son Percy (Feldman). Thinking the gig will be easy, Maddie throws herself at Percy, hoping for a quick way to get a car and return to her uncomplicated life. Percy, however, yearns for connection. They grow together as friends as Percy opens up to the future and Maddie learns to let go of the past.
Lawrence and Feldman are the highlights of the film. Both display a raw emotion and energy that complements the other. These are two inexplicitly damaged individuals that have no right inhabiting the same circle, let alone being friends. However, the actors have a natural chemistry that makes the relationship believable. Lawrence has long demonstrated a penchant for being quirky and downright hilarious in interviews but has never had a chance to stretch her comedic muscles on camera. Here, she can make Maddie as sassy and fiercely independent as her off-screen persona. Feldman, meanwhile, leans into the awkwardness that has become his signature brand. The supporting cast adds to the humor, each adding at least a handful of laughs.
Director Gene Stupnitsky keeps the film moving, allowing the jokes to land and the emotional scenes to build (though not always seamlessly). What drama is present never feels manipulative. However, the script never builds to more than topical statements on sex work, grief, class, and the fear of growing up. These could be powerful topics to explore in a comedy with a capable task, but the filmmakers take the easy road instead. This feels like a missed opportunity, particularly in a film whose lead is an Oscar winner.
Instead, the film never veers hard into any one direction. Despite a few buzzable moments, it is not as raunchy as the marketing suggests. It likewise pulls its punches on sensitive topics. The amount of heart comes unexpectedly but adds a welcome touch. The comedy runs the gamut from gross-out to slapstick to one-liners. While not all land, most elicit chuckles – if not full laughs.
No Hard Feelings is low-stakes but still ultimately satisfying. Lawrence and Feldman complement each other well and balance tenderness and comedy skillfully. Stupnitsky’s direction is not always smooth, but the film is never bogged down between comedy beats. While the script could have engaged in conversation of some hot-topic issues, the story shied away from saying anything meaningful. Instead, we are left with an enjoyable romp that elicits near-constant chuckles and shares some surprising heart.