Film Critic Luke Pierce Powell ponders on the point of summer flick No Hard Feelings, finding its writing to be a fatal flaw
The eagerly awaited return of Jennifer Lawrence to the big screen unfolds in 2023’s No Hard Feelings. This comedy, aside from the recent Don’t Look Up, offered a refreshing departure from her usual repertoire when the trailer initially dropped, generating intrigue into an apparently new acting style Lawrence was honing. This could have marked the beginning of a new type of cinematic conversation with Lawrence; and although she carried her weight seamlessly, not even Mystique could salvage this wreckage of a film.
Despite the initial excitement, the optimistic energy I held going into the film diminished quickly. Lawrence, renowned for her discerning role choices, seems to miss the mark in this oddly uncomfortable, poorly-edited summer flick.
The storyline opens with Lawrence’s character Maddie tirelessly trying to save her late mother’s house where she grew up and pay her overdue bills. She undertakes this by dating Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman), the son of the Becker family (Matthew Broderick & Laura Benati), who have posted an advert for this task with the reward of a car. Conveniently, this is perfect for Maddie as she happens to be an Uber driver and needs an income. But the job asks for more than just a date, it requires her to “date” him in the painfully adult sense.
As if the concept of parents trying to set-up their teenage son isn’t cringe-worthy enough, viewers are then subjected to the remainder of the runtime, in which they are forced to watch Maddie endlessly pursue Percy in hope of them sleeping together. What makes this so uncomfortable, notably, is the information we are cursed with early into the film’s runtime – Maddie is 32 whilst Percy is 19. Scene after scene follows Maddie trying various schemes in order to get-it-on with Percy, each one more excruciating than the last. One scene in particular sticks out near the beginning of their relationship: Maddie taking Percy into a bar, illegally, denying him his soft drink, and forcing him to drink a long island iced tea, illegally (the drinking age in the USA is 21).
This age difference is constantly reminded throughout the film, repeatedly undermining the humour of scenes and the punchlines of many jokes. In an age where the roles of men and women in relationships, on screen and off, is so heavily picked apart, it is bizarre that writer Stupnitsky would include such a senseless detail. Films like Labyrinth and Edge of Tomorrow have been criticised in recent years for their age gaps between characters, and ironically Silver Lining Playbook, starring Lawrence, has been noted as likewise problematic with a twenty-year gap.
On top of this, clunky writing and horrific editing do nothing to salvage what remains of this film. When the jokes are non-grooming related, they still don’t pack enough punch to warrant a laugh. There are definitely moments where I can imagine the jokes generating an absolute uproar of laughter when read off the page, but when put to screen the cuts between profile shots of characters is bafflingly bad. Characters will deliver a line and the camera will cut from them; no less than five seconds later the camera will return to them now in a completely different position and place, pulling any viewer right out of the story. Setups and punchlines are rushed through so quickly and abrasively, that it’s hard to tell if a joke was even told in the first place. Better comedies like Four Lions, or another slapstick like Meet The Parents, would often leave moments of silence, maybe even a reaction shot if they feel so inclined; No Hard Feelings doesn’t even leave a moment to giggle.
The film has so much untapped potential that the frustration of the lead actors emanates from the screen. Lawrence and Feldman have an undeniable chemistry that brings joy to any scene, no matter how excruciating, and it’s clear they are doing the most they possibly can with the writing they have been given. An intimate scene in the second half of the film in a lamplight restaurant really allows both actors to give their all and truly bring out the supposed ‘heart’ of their characters. Alongside a passionate rendition of ‘Maneater’ by Hall & Oates which Percy performs at the restaurant, we get one brief, glimmering moment that’s able to catch an audience off-guard and get us to feel some sort of connection to these shallow, under-written characters.
Of course, this feeling is a fleeting one as we are once again remined of the abhorrent subject matter, and the sour taste returns. Maddie never faces any consequences for her poor treatment of other characters or her manipulation of Percy. Even the few recognisable famous faces that briefly divert the comedy in a better direction, do far from enough to rescue the narrative. In fact, without spoiling the film, the blandest ‘deus ex machina’ ever is used to completely unfurl the entire narrative, leaving you pondering if the entirety of Maddie’s ordeal was even necessary in the first place.
No Hard Feelings is a film that lacks the laughs and unsettles audiences without leaving a second to get comfortable. Its crassness cringes and its jokes just aren’t funny – at least not enough to warrant the predatorial behaviours of its lead character. Perhaps in future, we will see Lawrence take on another comedic role, except in a slightly more coherent film that does make you want to gag. I would highly recommend that people remove this from their watchlist. No hard feelings though.
No Hard Feelings is available to watch now.
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