Review by Cole Groth
There’s a moment in No Hard Feelings where a man sticks his penis into a Chinese finger trap, tricking Jennifer Lawrence’s character, Maddie, into putting her finger on the other side. It’s a funny moment, playing off of an earlier moment shared between Maddie and Andrew Barth Feldman’s Percy. Beyond being a funny moment of shock humor, it becomes one of many scenes that are equally funny and sentimental. Dozens of rom-coms release every year, but few demand your attention as well as this one does. No Hard Feelings stands out as not only one of the best rom-coms of the year but one of the best comedies of the 2020s.
Set in New York, this film follows Maddie, a struggling 32-year-old Uber driver facing bankruptcy after having her car repossessed. In a desperate attempt to get a Buick, Maddie accepts an offer on Craigslist to “date” the 19-year-old son of two wealthy parents (Matthew Broderick and Laura Benanti). Over the course of several days, Maddie does everything she can to court Percy, taking herself along some embarrassing lows and surprising emotional highs.
Maddie has lived in her New York home for her entire life. With the rising taxes brought upon by rich neighbors moving to her neighborhood, she’s no longer able to afford the life she’s always lived. She drowns out the pain through constant drinking, hookups, and short-lived relationships that end in her ghosting her partner. Percy is an awkward teenager looking to get out of his shell before he ships away from his helicopter parents off to Princeton. He’s been unable to make friends throughout his high school experience and spends his days playing video games and keeping to himself. The two live quietly tragic lives, giving a solid emotional core for audiences to connect to.
While the premise itself is funny enough, what truly sells this movie is the script. Written by John Phillips and director Gene Stupnitsky, this screenplay is an exercise in nuance, hardly seen in R-rated comedies like it. It would be very easy to write Percy as an obnoxious nerd who has no social skills at all, but we’re instead presented with a kid who’s a little shy. He’s about as awkward as most teenage boys are, breaking from the Hollywood formula of his type of character. This script stands out as both one of the funniest screenplays in years and also the most realistic.
It’s hard to state just how perfect Jennifer Lawrence and Andrew Barth Feldman are in their respective roles. Lawrence is such a terrific movie star in that she can have an enormous presence in every shot she’s in while also feeling like a regular person. Feldman makes his leading debut here, and if his performance is indicative of the rest of his career, he’ll be a star in no time. He perfectly delivers each joke and has endless chemistry with Lawrence. The two bring small mannerisms to their characters that keep them from feeling like movie characters. There are plenty of awkward situations the two get put in, and their grounded performances play up the awkwardness perfectly.
One of the things that screenplays often miss is having memorable minor characters. Stupnisky utilizes the talents of Broderick, Benanti, Natalie Morales, Scott MacArthur, and Ebon Moss-Bachrach, among other great actors, to great effect. Other directors might throw in a cast of kooky characters for comedic effect without connecting them to the larger story, but here we’re treated to memorable characters that serve more of a purpose than a single-scene gag.
Raunchy comedies are hard to get right. American Pie and National Lampoon have created a genre of comedy that feels needlessly erotic and tacky. No Hard Feelings takes the idea of the sex comedy and elevates it. It’s sexy but not uncomfortable to watch. It’s laugh-out-loud funny and never cheesy. It’s dramatic but not too sappy. This is a perfect blend of many different comedic approaches that sets itself aside as the best in all the genres it hits.
The theatrical scene hasn’t been pretty for original movies recently, and romantic comedies have been hit especially hard. No Hard Feelings is a movie that deserves all the attention it can get on its opening weekend. Jennifer Lawrence brings her A-game and somehow gives one of her career-best performances in a role that can revitalize this genre. This is a movie that will undoubtedly find itself in a long line of classic comedies. While it’ll play very well in the comfort of your own home in a few months, there’s absolutely no better way to watch this than on a big screen with a large audience. One can only hope that Hollywood will produce more movies like this, and that more movie stars will take the daring leap of appearing in a goofy comedy. Who knows? Maybe they'll be the stars of the next No Hard Feelings.
No Hard Feelings releases in theaters on June 23.