No Hard Feelings Movie Review: Jennifer Lawrence Attempts to Revive a Genre on Life Support

Movie Review: No Hard Feelings feels like a shot in the arm for studio comedies – a subgenre in desperate need of *something* to revive it. Jennifer Lawrence and Andrew Barth Feldman both star, and carry with them completely different perspectives of maturing emotionally.

No Hard Feelings movie review for comedy film starring Jennifer Lawrence and Andrew Barth Feldman
No Hard Feelings

As it’s been written about for the better part of the last few weeks, the studio comedy is in dire need of a new hit. As the genre of a once-flourishing box office staple, the wistful ability to pair stars in a raucous script just isn’t as promising as it once was. But many movie trends tend to ebb and flow as the years go on, and hopefully studio comedies are just another one rolling along dying to be reinstated back into the culture, and I’m wishfully thinking that No Hard Feelings could be the shot in the arm necessary for a comeback.

Or at least it is for me, because despite the middling performance of this Jennifer Lawrence-led comedy, No Hard Feelings pulls off being both genuinely funny and bold – a combination so rare for anything hitting movie theaters in 2023. There’s a safe, baked-in level of a box office floor for many movies releasing in cinemas nowadays, and it feels like a real throwback that No Hard Feelings at least gets a few weeks on a large number of screens before the inevitable streaming run that this movie is bound to have (one that certainly would’ve taken place on cable just a decade ago).

The movie follows Maddie Barker (Jennifer Lawrence giving a fully committed performance, one that stands up with much of her previous material) and her struggling attempts to retain the family house she inherited from her mother upon her passing. We start by seeing her at her very lowest – losing her car because she hasn’t been able to keep up on payments, compounded with the fact that she makes most of her money driving for Uber.

And if that isn’t bad enough, it’s being towed away by past fling Gary (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), who serves as exposition into Maddie’s flaky dating history of leaving guys just as they begin to get close to her. In order to replace her vehicle, she takes a sketchy Craigslist gig by rich locals trying to expose their son Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman) to the real world before he goes to Princeton in the following Fall.

What follows is a truly raunchy, ridiculous blast as Percy and Maddie navigate the emotions of growing up emotionally and physically. As a traditional sex comedy, it may feel awkward and occasionally wrong that the premise is as open and self-knowing as this. Maddie is offered a Buick as pay for “dating” Percy – a term that never fully loses quotations as Percy’s parents (Laura Benanti and Matthew Broderick) never fully define what Maddie’s objective is, only to show Percy what fledgling adults do on their empty weekends.

And as a story, No Hard Feelings generally works towards positive results. As it begins to settle in beyond the opening 30 minutes, the highlights become apparent rather quickly. Jennifer Lawrence is Jennifer Lawrence – a likeable and continuously personable actress capable of conveying normalcy despite being one of the medium’s most famous performers. On the opposite side, Andrew Barth Feldman is truly a revelation on screen. His comedic timing is consistently on point, and his ability to float along as an awkward, insecure teen feels so effortless and authentic.

I was worried heading in that the movie wouldn’t be able to establish a real connection between Lawrence and Feldman, but those nerves were quickly settled because each actor feels so comfortable with one another. The movie is easily at its best when it focuses in on the two leads rather than expanding on the world of Montauk, New York.

Which may have been the one aspect of No Hard Feelings that didn’t altogether work for me. The movie builds a secondary narrative exploring the themes of wealth inequality and losing your home to incoming rich folk. No Hard Feelings never truly gels between the two storylines working side-by-side, and the primary focus always seemed far more interesting than the half-baked illustrations of economic hardships.

And that may be a bit jolting at first for viewers settling into their theater seats for No Hard Feelings because the opening quarter of the film does some heavy lifting trying to match the two plots up with one another. It certainly wasn’t the funniest point of the movie, and I struggled digging into where director Gene Stupnitsky and co-writer John Phillips were trying to take us. Thankfully, it hits a much smoother pacing as the movie rolls along.

Even with that minor storytelling gripe, Gene Stupnitsky has put together another stellar comedy that has me excited to see where he moves to next. Good Boys (his directorial debut from 2019) remains one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in theaters in years, and No Hard Feelings lands not too far from it. The latter feels much more sincere and dramatic than his directorial debut, and I hope he can improve on blending comedy and drama heading into his next movie – hopefully with a clearer, more nuanced theme worked in.

No Hard Feelings is one of my favorite comedies of 2023. That statement might not carry the same weight now as it did years ago, but that’s not to the detriment of No Hard Feelings – it’s because there isn’t much competing with it so far this year. The movie works in many different emotions and tonal inflections, and many work incredibly well. You can turn your brain off and laugh until you cry, or keep it on and cry until you laugh.

Rating

Genre: Comedy, Romance

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No Hard Feelings Cast and Credits

No Hard Feelings movie cast with Jennifer Lawrence and Andrew Barth Feldman

Cast:

Jennifer Lawrence as Maddie Barker

Andrew Barth Feldman as Percy Becker

Laura Benanti as Allison Becker

Matthew Broderick as Laird Becker

Natalie Morales as Sara

Scott MacArthur as Jim

Ebon Moss-Bachrach as Gary

Crew:

Director: Gene Stupnitsky

Writer: Gene Stupnitsky, John Phillips

Cinematography: Eigil Bryld

Editor: Brent White

Composers: Mychael DannaJessica Weiss

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No Hard Feelings on IMDb