Long proven and respected as a dramatic actress (hello, Oscar winner!), Jennifer Lawrence (as any YouTube surfers of celebrity interviews knows) has a killer sense of humor. Seeing how funny and self-effacing she is in real life (as well as in hilarious, scene-stealing supporting roles in movies like American Hustle), it’s astonishing that she hasn’t been given the lead in a comedy until now. And, unsurprisingly, she kills it.
Growing up in the beach town of Montauk, NY, Maddie (Lawrence) has found herself priced out of her hometown by wealthy “summer people.” She works shitty service jobs and is way behind on her taxes. Financial panic truly sets in when her car is towed, leaving her without her supplemental Uber income. So, when she sees a want ad posted by helicopter parents seeking a young woman to “date” (as in date date) their shy 19-year-old son Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman) in return for a Buick, she only hesitates slightly.
The funny/sad thing is, if you think even a little bit about the setup of No Hard Feelings, it could have been the basis of a really depressing drama about the class system, gentrification, and generational poverty. But who wants reality when you can get Matthew Broderick as Percy’s dad Laird (“one syllable”), with his long gray hair and fashion beachwear, lamenting that his shy son isn’t out getting laid before college, like he did as a young man (“Bueller? Bueller?”)?
Jennifer Lawrence totally works this role, and she knows exactly what kind of comedy she is in. Cringey lines (“Can I touch your wiener?” she asks Percy, as he holds a Dachshund) manage to still land because of her in-on-the-joke delivery, and she is an absolute champ when it comes to physical comedy. She gets punched in the throat, maced, and even performs an impressive, extended fight scene buck naked (after the screening, I overheard a couple guys solemnly acknowledging her commitment to “full frontal”).
Though No Hard Feelings harkens back to old school sex comedies, it still manages to not be horrifically offensive like many R-rated comedies: Maddie’s sexy raunchiness is tempered by Percy’s respect for consent and choice. By the end of the journey, it is unsurprising that Maddie and Percy will eventually meet somewhere in the middle: the relationship-skittish Maddie may have genuinely found a new friend in Percy; and Percy, being around the wildly independent (and a bit scary) Maddie, may have loosened up a bit.
There’s an overall sweetness to the movie, led by Feldman’s charming portrayal of dorky-yet-nice Percy. Maddie’s supportive pals (Natalie Morales and Scott MacArthur) keep her grounded while gently mocking her choices. Even Percy’s way-over-protective parents admit that their ridiculous plan was only made with the best intentions to help their introvert son. Inappropriate? No doubt, but strangely well-intentioned? Suuuure.
But it’s guffaw-worthy Lawrence who truly steals the show. Seeing her crawling across the lawn, eyes swollen and weeping from Mace, howling, “Whyyyyy?” made me laugh way harder than it should have. Lawrence is a fabulous physical comedian, and I’d absolutely love to see her in more comedies.