Film Review: No Hard Feelings; Jennifer Lawrence runs unashamedly free in this raunchy, heartfelt comedy

Whilst Jennifer Lawrence has lightly flexed her comedic muscle over the years – her Golden Globe-winning turn in 2013’s American Hustle probably the closest she’s come to being the comedienne she so clearly is – No Hard Feelings finally allows the supremely charismatic and comedically capable performer to embrace the genre with all the shamelessness it deserves.

A throwback to the movie star-driven vehicles that seem to be getting less and less of a healthy look-in cinematically over the last few years, No Hard Feelings embraces its simple, oft-ridiculous premise, and lets Lawrence run free; the actress consistently elevating every seeming throw-away moment and quip with her perfectly in-tune comedic timing.

When we first meet her Maddie Barker, the Gene Stupnitsky/John Phillips-penned script allows us all we need to know about her hot mess of a character from the simplest of interactions.  The scene – which has largely played out across the film’s trailer promotion (though for anyone worried, the trailer hasn’t spoiled the biggest laughs) – sees Maddie’s car being repossessed; the worker responsible – Ebon Moss-Bachrach‘s Gary – seemingly taking a little bit of pride in her misfortune after she ghosted him.  An Uber driver without a car isn’t a good look for Maddie, and as her Montauk surroundings fill with wealthy out-of-towners (something else she doesn’t take too kindly to), as well as the very real threat of losing her house, she turns to the most unlikely of sources to save her financial future: Craigslist.

A post advertising the deflowering of a 19-year-old introvert doesn’t exactly scream “job security”, but the 19-year-old at hand – Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman, an absolute find) – is a particular case, and his worried parents – Laird (Matthew Broderick) and Allison (Laura Benanti) – will apparently resort to the unorthodox in their quest to send him to Princeton with a little bit of life experience under his belt; “I’ll “date” his brains out,” Maddie so assuredly confirms when asking just how much life experience they’d like the young lad to have.

What starts out as merely a job for the desperate Maddie – once she beds him she’ll be gifted a Buick Regal for her troubles – gradually blossoms into a friendship that transcends the very notion of sex.  Whilst her initial flirting techniques come on much too strong for the shy, respectful Percy – her idea of picking him up at the local dog pound results in him believing she’s a sex predator, and a late night beach rendezvous turns surprisingly violent (this scene undoubtedly to become the film’s most discussed) – once she puts the pedal on having sex with him for her own gain, their relationship allows the film to delight in the genuine chemistry between Lawrence and Feldman.

Whilst the film’s first half is a far more raunchy affair and gleefully leans into the opposing sexual natures of Maddie and Percy, the back-end, however predictable it might be for films of the ilk, is layered with a tenderness and a genuine emotionality that allows the film to sail beyond its sex-comedy mentality.  This, again, highlights the capabilities of Lawrence and Feldman, who are equally strong as a pairing as they are on their own accord; though given its ultimately her vehicle, Lawrence is afforded more time to shine away from Feldman, with her sequences involving Natalie Morales and Scott MacArthur as her expecting friends serving the film the adult bite it needs.

A glorious, bad-mouthed comedy that truly aligns itself with the unpredictable nature of Lawrence’s own unashamed humour, No Hard Feelings is the type of film that the cinema screens have missed for far too long.  By no means is it reinventing the wheel in the realms of its genre, but adhering to the grand notion of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, Stupnitsky’s consistently funny effort knows the ground rules and plays to them accordingly; though it has an awful lot of fun in threatening to draw outside the lines.

FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

No Hard Feelings is screening in Australian theatres from June 22nd, 2023.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.