NO HARD FEELINGS
Once, Jennifer Lawrence proudly touted that she had never appeared nude on film. Since the We Saw Your Boobs number at the 2013 Academy Awards where she was singled out for not showing her boobs, J-Law has gone full frontal in two films. The first was Red Sparrow. The second? No Hard Feelings, a film that is meant as a throwback to raunchy sex comedies. More tame than people have been led to believe, No Hard Feelings is serviceable if slight.
Maddie Barker (Lawrence) is facing tough economic times. In danger of failing to pay her property tax, her major source of income as an Uber driver in a summer beach community is lost when her car is impounded. Fortunately, an ad on Craigslist offers a car to anyone willing to make a man out of a very sheltered 19-year-old.
That 19-year-old is Percy Becker (Andrew Barth Feldman). Socially awkward, shy, and extremely sheltered by his parents Allison and Laird (Laura Benanti and Matthew Broderick), Percy's condition as an inexperienced man-child needs remedying. Thus, the need to secretly recruit the 32-year-old Maddie (she being the only person to answer the ad).
Maddie instantly sets to work seducing Percy, leading to some remarkably uncomfortable situations for both of them. However, as time goes on and both spend time with each other, Maddie and Percy find a connection that goes into genuine friendship. Still, there have to be some hijinks and misunderstandings before both become better people through their shared experiences.
I figure that a lot of the comedy in No Hard Feelings comes from the mix of inappropriate behavior from Maddie and Percy along with the age gap. As far as I know, no one questioned why a 32-year-old is palling around with a 19-year-old. Maddie may not be old enough to be his mother, but one has to have some suspension of disbelief to get things going. There is also the element that it is the female who is the aggressor, though to be fair we have seen this before.
Some more comedy is meant through John Philips and director Gene Stupnitsky's screenplay. When first meeting Percy at the animal shelter, Maddie asks, "Mind if I touch your wiener?". She is referring to a dog, but Lawrence's overtly sexual delivery makes clear she meant that double entendre. Whether Percy was meant to understand it is unclear.
No Hard Feelings has that feel for a throwback to raunchy sex comedies. It certainly tries for that, but sometimes it plays as if it is trying too hard. Lawrence in her early scenes with Feldman appears too desperate to seduce this clearly clueless young man. It is only as the film goes on that Lawrence's Maddie reveals more than her body. She and Percy have a few heart-to-heart moments where we learn about their backgrounds and how they got to where they are now.
That too, I believe, is another trope of these comedies: finding that the characters are deeper, more wounded than they first let on. No Hard Feelings pretty much plays it that way, where we know that by the end, they will both become better people.
Between those revelations, though, we get to see people maced and skinny dipped. Given how utterly reluctant Percy is to interact with people, it is a wonder why Maddie would go through all these hoops for a car. Granted, the plot point of essentially offering a used car for deflowering your child is already oddball, but again one rolls with it.
Jennifer Lawrence knew what the role required and played it as such. Neither horrible nor rising above the material, Lawrence did her best. There were some good moments, such as when she shows unexpected jealousy when one of Percy's classmates is too friendly for her tastes. Lawrence's best moment probably is when she goes to the teen party looking for Percy; her efforts at trying to understand everyone recording their every action and saying things that make her sound worse and worse is a highpoint.
Feldman, for his part, is above the material. Few people could make Darryl Hall & John Oates' Maneater into both a tale of terror or a surprisingly tender love ballad. I would have thought though that as a Zoomer, Percy would be more familiar with Nelly Furtado's Maneater than Hall & Oates, but there it is. Feldman rarely missteps in his performance, making Percy sheltered, scandalized but also sincere. There were a few off moments, such as his violent reaction to discovering the deception. However, I did laugh when Percy, aware of his parents selling him for a car, makes a snippy remark at Maddie's expense. Asking about his future plans, he looks at her and says, "In four years, we'll both be seniors", the pun clearly intended as an insult.
No Hard Feelings does have stumbling blocks. A subplot involving Jody (Kyle Mooney), Percy's male nanny goes nowhere and adds nothing to the story. Another subplot involving Maddie's friends Sarah and Jim (Natalie Morales and Scott MacArthur) too seem irrelevant.
There is a story rattling about No Hard Feelings, and it does have a couple of good performances. It's serviceable, but nothing more.