If anyone could have saved the studio comedy, it could have been Jennifer Lawrence. But if the erratic sex comedy “No Hard Feelings” is Hollywood’s best effort, it’s not going well for either of them. Starring Lawrence as a heavily sketched caricature of an emotionally stunted, sexually liberated thirtysomething struggling to stay afloat, “No Hard Feelings” seeks to resurrect the messy white woman trope that worked so well in films like “Young Adult ” and “Trainwreck”. While by no means a guarantee, there is one crucial difference between those films and “No Hard Feelings” – real women wrote them.
Although Lawrence, who also serves as an executive producer on the film, is working overtime to make the over-the-top, contrived humor work, director Gene Stupnitsky (co-writer with John Phillips) seems far more interested in trying to invert the conventional genre comedic tropes. . Lawrence dons skintight, drenched suits, gets punched in the crotch in a fully nude fight scene, and practically trips over herself to seduce a young nerd.
It’s like “Never Been Kissed” crossed with “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo”. While there are moments of committed physical comedy and some good jokes, the circumstances are neither believable nor outrageous enough to add up.
“No Hard Feelings” takes place in Montauk, a former middle-class Long Island beach town that has slowly been taken over by the wealthy elite. These shifting demographics are a source of constant stress and frustration for diehard locals, like Maddie Barker (Lawrence), a barista and Uber driver who is barely getting by after her mother dies. Though Maddie has inherited her quaint childhood home on a desirable property, she’s behind on her property tax payments, which have tripled along with the city’s median income.
The film opens as local tow operator Gary (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), still hurt from when Maddie ghosted him after three months of dating, arrives to repossess his car. Leaving the house in a classic bathrobe and lingerie, her attempts to charm him are interrupted by a shirtless Italian man stretching out on his lawn. As he gropes her from behind, she insists they’re just cousins. “You know how Italians are,” she pleads. The message is clear: Maddie is a gamer who has no time for emotion.
When she comes across an ad for an unusual concert to “date” a high school protégé in exchange for a Buick, it seems like the fastest way to get a car. “You know how these helicopter parents are,” says his schlubby surfer friend (Scott MacArthur). “They would do anything for their children. I’m surprised they won’t fuck it themselves. (The fact that the secondary male character gets some of the film’s best lines reveals the writers’ allegiances.)
Commuting on rollerblades since losing her car, Maddie arrives at the sloping driveway of the family’s sleek modern mansion huffing and puffing. As she climbs the stairs with impatient determination, the helicopter’s aforementioned parents (underutilized Matthew Broderick and Laura Benanti) watch serenely. Mom and Dad have no distinguishing features other than being rich and out of touch, which could have been avoided if they had more than two scenes: one at the beginning and one at the end.
Once Maddie meets Percy (newcomer Andrew Barth Feldman), her scheming parents recede into the background, their presence only a dim reflection in the nervous son they’ve sheltered in helplessness. Attacking the boy with feral intensity, Maddie takes a sexual approach to the assignment, misunderstanding the tender virgin at every turn. After Maddie forces a ride home on the boy and snatches her phone away from him, he beats her in an attempt to avoid her obvious kidnapping. But the shock of Percy watering her with glued eyes doesn’t quite come, and neither does his naked beating of a group of clothes thieves on the beach.
The ridiculous scenarios are obviously meant to be funny, but they mostly feel contrived and come on suddenly, with a little build-up of forced outrageous outburst. Much like Maddie’s aggressive seduction of Percy, the film impresses the viewer with its extravagant scenarios and awkwardly juvenile sexual talk. Without being allowed into her logic, Maddie decides that she has to sleep with Percy to get the Buick, even if the initial pitch was just to get him out of her shell. “I promise I’ll go,” Percy says, after getting to know her better.
As the film’s lead, Lawrence is expected to do most of the heavy lifting, but gets very little help from Barthe Feldman, who portrayed Percy’s shyness and anxiety as dull and lifeless. The script doesn’t do him any favors with the barely sketched character, but it doesn’t make interesting physical choices to signal any sort of personality hiding behind the cautious facade of the teenager. But what’s most galling is how utterly deadpan he seems to Maddie’s obvious charisma, hiding any glimmer of pent-up desire she might harbor, even if it’s just for conversation.
The punchiest humor is aimed at kids Percy’s age, who are all on the phone at a party Maddie crashes, where she’s called ma’am and kicked out after making what’s basically a no homo prank. While it’s fun to see young Lawrence also address her age, the focus on her age begs the question of who the film is.
Percy isn’t a well-rounded enough character to appeal to a younger audience, which means he’s for people Lawrence’s age who…want to date teenagers? As with most inverted Hollywood tropes, simply gender-switching to put dude humor into a female character is always going to ring false. Just like Percy’s performance anxiety, he falls flat.
Sony Pictures will release “No Hard Feelings” in theaters on Friday, June 23.