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No Hard Feelings: Film Review

No Hard Feelings won’t leave you feeling much afterwards, but its acting charm and bits of sincerity should be enough for a one-time watch.

No Hard Feelings showed me Jennifer Lawrence skinny dipping. I don’t think I can harbor hard feelings after that.

Directed by Gene Stupnitsky, No Hard Feelings follows Maddie (Jennifer Lawrence), a struggling 32-year-old who needs a car to work as an Uber driver in order to pay for her late mother’s house. That is when she runs into a most unusual job from a pair of helicopter parents: dating their 19-year-old son Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman) to get him out of his shell. Logically, this should be the easiest job in the world, as I imagine any boy (and some girls too) would leap out of their shell if it meant getting intimate with Jennifer Lawrence, but things turn far more awkward and complicated than expected.

I realize its premise can feel uncomfortable for some for very understandable reasons. However, you can set aside those fears, as No Hard Feelings also realizes how uncomfortable things are. In fact, the uncomfortableness is the point. Everything from the dialogue and the little nuances in their acting, such as awkward pauses or looks, to the complete lack of music in “steamy” scenes screams that, no matter how smoking hot she is, what Maddie is doing is not okay, and it becomes a key part of the plot.

Unsurprisingly, Jennifer Lawrence is what makes a lot of it work as well. It’s impressive when you realize just how unlikeable her character is on paper. Yes, she’s struggling financially, but she also ghosts people after short relationships, often acts petty and immature, and frequently acts horny to a 19 year-old. Yet Lawrence puts just the right amount of charm into her performance: while you understand she isn’t the sort of person you want to hire as your babysitter, you also don’t actively want to stop following her story.

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Maddie (Jennifer Lawrence) and Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman) in Columbia Pictures’ NO HARD FEELINGS. (Macall Polay, © 2023 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

Yet I don’t want to leave Andrew Barth Feldman out either. Lawrence acting well in a movie is nowadays as synonymous as protection being used in one night stands, but Feldman is still a relatively new face, yet he doesn’t slack off. He brings a perfect amount of shyness and naivety to his character that makes you understand his problem, but not to an annoying degree.

This makes for some genuinely fun chemistry between the two leads that acts as the main charm for the film. Again, a lot of it is as awkward as strangers finding themselves in bed together the morning after a college party, but that also makes much of the comedy work. I chuckled at several scenes on just how hard Maddie was trying to “date” Percy’s virginity out, and how spectacularly many of the attempts were going wrong.

Sadly, those moments are more the highlight than the overall product, as No Hard Feelings struggles to find a good way to pace their relationship. Being fair, I have never had a woman more than a decade older try to sexually coerce me when I was 19, so I don’t know how these sorts of relationships go, but the plot suffers from a lot of “stop and go.” It’s like running anal beads through your fingers. You slow to a crawl at one bead, then suddenly you’re at the next bead far too quickly to have it feel natural.

The main issue is with Maddie’s character arc. The premise is that she is dating Percy to get a car: therefore, she is putting up a seductive act of sorts in their relationship. The problem with that is that it becomes harder for the audience to tell just how real her actions are as well. The scenes where she truly feels like she’s reflecting honestly are few and far apart, so it’s difficult to get a read on how she is changing through this relationship. I can see she becomes more genuine towards the end, but it’s how she became that was that the film doesn’t deliver as smoothly.

There is also some commentary thrown in here and there, about helicopter parents, suburban development, cancel culture, etc. And, to be fair, they’re not shoved in your face hard enough to leave an imprint. Instead, they don’t really leave an imprint at all, as the film skims over most of them. On one hand I appreciate the movie knowing itself and not trying to get too pretentious, but on the other hand, it does make a lot of those elements feel unnecessary.

What makes it even more baffling is the ending. I won’t spoil, but I was surprised by how thoughtful and mature – in a respectful way, not… you know – it handled both characters’ resolutions. Their choices make sense, and in regards to the whole uncomfortableness debacle I mentioned earlier, settles it in a way that feels respectful. Which makes it even sadder in a way because if the journey to that ending had been better built up, I think it could have hit even harder.

No Hard Feelings, dear movie, but I think you reached a bit too farther than you could shoot. I can see the makings of a pretty earnest story here. Had the film allowed me to see more of Maddie’s side of the story and how she was really feeling throughout, I think a lot of its issues could have been alleviated. As it is, it’s a film where its stars are more memorable than its story.

But then again, while it didn’t make me have any lingering feelings, it also means I didn’t have any unpleasant feelings with it either. I actually liked a lot of the two leads’ moments together, and while comedy is more subjective than most topics, I think a lot of its laughs work. No Hard Feelings is a good example of a steamier consumable film, a perfect “late night” movie, if you will. Not in the sexual way, more like the “I can’t sleep and I have a tub of ice cream” sort of way.

No Hard Feelings is now showing globally in theaters.

No Hard Feelings: Trailer (Sony Pictures Entertainment)
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