Reviewed by: Jim O'Neill
|1 hr. 43 min.
|Year of Release:
June 23, 2023 (wide release)
DVD: August 29, 2023
This film’s concept was reportedly based on a real-life Craigslist ad.
Raunchy comedy that includes full nudity
Inappropriate view of virginity
Purity—Should I save sex for marriage?
What is sexual immorality?
CONSEQUENCES—What are the consequences of sexual immorality?
How far is too far? What are the guidelines for dating relationships?
Jennifer Lawrence … Maddie Barker
Andrew Barth Feldman … Percy
Natalie Morales … Sara
Matthew Broderick … Laird
Ebon Moss-Bachrach … Gary
Laura Benanti … Allison
Scott MacArthur … Jim
Victorya Danylko-Petrovskaya … Cheerleader
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Odenkirk Provissiero Entertainment
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|Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures
“Need a car? ‘Date’ our son”
Jennifer Lawrence co-produces and stars in “No Hard Feelings,” a vehicle ostensibly curtailed to her comic talents. In turning the reins over to director Gene Stupnitsky, she flubs the producer’s shaping role, and her resulting performance is a mess. Her delivery of the garbled, often offensive, material as well as her unbalanced timing lack delicacy and allure. She seems to be reading her lines from cheap greeting cards, the ones with the groan-inducing jokes, and toward the end, when the wrinkled and rarely funny plot gets ironed out, she recites platitudes about love, friendship and growth as if she was reading slips of paper out of cracked-opened fortune cookies.
Lawrence plays Maddie, an Uber driver who, unable to pay the skyrocketing real-estate taxes on her modest home in Montauk, New York, has her car repossessed leaving her without a means of making a living. She consults Craigslist and finds a posting in which a wealthy mother and father are offering a Buick Regal to a woman who is willing to become their son’s ersatz girlfriend. The parents are worried because their son is not interested in dating or engaging in sexual activity. They want whoever answers the ad to introduce him to a woman’s charms and to “date his brains out.” Maddie jumps at the opportunity.
Where does one start with all that?
If there was ever a time for a good coming-of-age movie, now would be that time. After a pandemic that kept the young secluded, isolated and immobile, their vision stilted and their imaginations blunted or even corrupted, a break-out rebel caper would be a relief, perhaps even a cause for celebration. The tired phrase “coming out” might now take on a whole new meaning as a pent-up populace emerges from small apartments, household dens, computer rooms and safe spaces. Putting away childish things would be a good first step in that process, and letting the ensuing chips fall where they may could be both fun and life-affirming. Unfortunately, this movie eschews growth and celebrates infantile behavior as a way of life for adults as well as for children. Everyone is Peter Pan; no one is Merlin.
The boy at the center of the set-up is 19 year old Percy, his age pointed out emphatically so as to dispel issues about abuse, but that legal nicety is hardly a cover for the immaturity and immorality of every aspect of this project. Being law abiding is thrown to the wind when it comes to everything else, including underage drinking, the result of which is not a reckoning but just one more reason for cheap laughs. And I believe there is a word for a profession that involves the exchange of money, or in this case, a car, for personal services, something the boy’s parents seem unperturbed by, or worse, hardened by.
Percy is played with detached air-headedness by Andrew Barth Feldman who is so inert that one has to wonder if there’s a pull string on his back that makes him move and speak. It never seems to occur to those who surround Percy that 1) he may be old enough to decide for himself if he is ready to date and 2) if he does date, he may want to take it as slow as he takes everything else. One has to feel for a young man who has every worldly comfort but no spiritual guidance; he has all the staffs one could ask for, but none of the rods. And if ever a sheep needed a shepherd, Percy would be that lost lamb.
“Folly is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline drives it from him.” —Proverbs 29:15
Of course, I’m not taking Proverbs literally and suggesting that Percy’s parents use one on him—although that would be less onerous than having to listen to his mother Allison’s voice, which as spoken by caustic Laura Benanti, is about as soothing as castor oil—but a bit of guidance and direction might fare better. It would certainly be a step up from their solipsistic “because I say so” approach.
Laird (gotta love that name), Percy’s father, is played by Matthew Broderick, the one time wonder-kid of American teen movies such as “Ferris Butler’s Day Off” and “War Games,” which were refreshing in their freewheeling and enterprising 1980s way. The characters Broderick played were admirable for their energy, their risk taking and their ingenuity. Here, Broderick is reduced to a rich but feckless husband and parent who rubs his temples when he doesn’t get his way. Is it any wonder why Percy spends most of his time fretting and clutching stuffed animals for comfort?
Cultivating a desire is not a bad thing. When we know and understand our desires we know in which direction our bodies, and our souls, are headed. In this movie, the boy, the parents and the Uber driving poser have obvious desires, but no one directs those longings toward anything that would raise them up or act as a stabilizing force. They all aim downward.
Oftentimes, it is the calm but firm hand of a woman that completes a man’s maturity as Rachel does for Jacob, Rosalind for Orlando in Shakespeare’ “As You Like It,” and Dolly Levi for Horace Vandergelder in “Hello, Dolly.” Jennifer Lawrence’s Maddie instead takes a reptilian approach to wooing. Instead of using her eyes and her heart to come to an understanding of who her charge is, she tries to form an idol not of flesh or even marble, but of degradable and degrading play-doh.
“No Hard Feelings” is devoid of humor because it is devoid of dignity. Even the title is unworthy of even a passing middle-school level snicker. Without being rooted in decency or convention as are all great works of comedy — Moliere’s “School for Wives,” Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest,” “I Love Lucy,” “Everybody Loves Raymond”—there is no joke put forth that is worth momentarily cherishing let alone remembering. It disdains its viewers sensibilities while it abandons its own.
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.