The Jennifer Lawrence-led comedy No Hard Feelings is a delightful surprise, and manages to avoid pitfalls into gross-out comedy.
In the seaside town of Montauk, bar-tender Maddie (Jennifer Lawrence) has just had her car towed due to her unpaid bills, leaving her in a bind as the only way she can earn the money to pay what she owes is as an Uber driver. The answer to her problems comes in the form of a personal ad from a wealthy couple who are willing to give the right young woman a car, if she agrees to “date” Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman), their highly introverted, socially awkward son, before he goes to college.
If you saw the trailer and were perplexed by the prospect of Jennifer Lawrence in what appears to be a teen sex comedy, you might go into this film with somewhat low expectations. It’s a delightful surprise then, that No Hard Feelings surpasses those expectations by some distance. Not only does it pass the bulk of any laugh tests you wish to apply to it, it also infuses paper-thin characters with real humanity.
No Hard Feelings manages to wear its influences on its sleeve without ever being obnoxious. It feels like a deliberate throwback to late 90s fare like American Pie and She’s All That. Plus, the presence of Matthew Broderick and the horrendous things that are done to cars in this film might remind you of a particularly famous ‘Day Off’.
Jennifer Lawrence is on top form here as Maddie, who starts the film as the ‘hot mess’ stereotype that Hollywood has come to love. At times, the character is unbelievably bold, and whilst we might suspect that she’s only that way because the plot demands it, she does propel the story along at a pace that prevents you from questioning anything.
Andrew Barth Feldman as Percy is potentially a star-making performance meanwhile. Seeing the character gradually and subtly shift from being little more than a punchline to being a young man ready to assert himself might leave you squinting at the screen wondering how exactly they’re doing that.
The needle drops in this film are worthy of note as well. The titles kick in with a blast from Shirley Bassey’s Jezahel (which many listeners might recognise from its sampling in Public Enemy’s Harder Than You Think). Although more screen time is dedicated to the meaning of Hall & Oates’ Maneater, it’s the soulful tones of Bob Seger’s You’ll Accomp’ny Me that fills you up at the end. It really shouldn’t work, but it definitely does.
Gene Stupnitsky, in only his second outing as a feature director, seems to have danced a fine line here, avoiding pit-falls into gross out comedy or shmaltzy drama, and somehow manages to make it look easy. We’re used to seeing coming of age films about young men in the long summer before they start university and adult life. What’s enjoyable here is seeing a coming of age story for someone in their early 30s, telling us it’s never too late to get your act together. Whilst not re-inventing the wheel by any means, No Hard Feelings is a heartfelt comedy that manages to tick all the boxes and have you leaving the cinema with a smile on your face.
No Hard Feelings is in cinemas now.
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