The first two acts of No Hard Feelings harken back to the raunchy comedies that the Farrelly brothers resurrected in the 90s. Had the film come out then, Cameron Diaz likely would’ve landed the lead. While Diaz would’ve killed in the role back then, Jennifer Lawrence again proves that her star power knows no limit. It’s been over a decade since Lawrence caught fire as Katniss Everdeen and won an Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook. Although Lawrence briefly stepped away from the spotlight, she could still star in any franchise films or award-season vehicles. And yet, seeing her team up with the director of Good Boys feels on brand.
Lawrence radiates with comedic energy as Maddie Barker, an irresponsible Uber driver with bills piling up. Her car is repossessed and her house will be next unless she reclaims her livelihood. Through Craigslist, Maddie is introduced to two helicopter parents played by Laura Benanti and Matthew Broderick. Andrew Barth Feldman, best known for his work on The Great White Way, hits the silver screen as their son Percy. It’s a role Michael Cera likely would’ve owned in 2009. Although his father is Ferris Bueller, Percy makes Cameron look like a righteous dude. Hell, Grace the school secretary was cooler than this kid.
Outside of online games and his volunteer work at a dog shelter, Percy’s social life is nonexistent. He’s more comfortable glancing at his phone than looking someone in the eyes. Percy’s parents fear that he won’t be able to handle life at Princeton unless he comes out of his shell. They thus hire Maddie to “date” him. And by “date” him, they mean “date” him. Suddenly, the title’s double entendre becomes clear. Although Percy is 19, that only makes this setup slightly less messed up. At one point, Maddie and Percy attend a party of high school TikTokkers who would likely describe this premise as “extremely problematic.” No Hard Feelings reminds us that a comedy can be problematic and funny. Actually, they often intersect.
Lawrence throws herself into the role of the sexually resilient Maddie, hilariously offsetting Percy’s lack of a libido. Both actors seem up for anything as long as it gets a laugh. This includes a showdown at the beach with an Eastern Promises twist. If there was an Oscar for Best Beast Mode moment, Keanu would still win for John Wick: Chapter 4, but Lawrence would be a close second for this uproarious scene. For all the profanity, nudity, and general bad taste, there’s room for heart. While Maddie sets out to play the role of Percy’s lover, a genuine friendship develops.
Although No Hard Feelings starts like a 90s Farrelly comedy, the third act is closer to an early 2000s Farrelly comedy. Not only do we get the standard liar-revealed plot point, but the film takes on a melancholy tone. We still get some decent character development with sincere performances, but it feels like a 180. Had No Hard Feelings committed to being a laugh riot, Joy Ride might’ve had competition for the year’s funniest film. Even if the dramatic moments don’t always land, there are just enough comedy bits that do. The casting elevates the hit-and-miss material with Feldman giving a star-making turn and Lawrence’s star continuing to shine bright.