Things aren’t going well for Maddie (Jennifer Lawrence). Her car’s been towed, which is a big deal since most of her income comes from being an Uber driver, and she’s about to lose her house. Then a solution appears: a married couple, Laird (Matthew Broderick) and Allison (Laura Benanti), are giving their car away to a woman who’s willing to date their son Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman). Percy’s about to go to Princeton, and they’re worried about him, so they want to hire someone to help get him out of his shell a little. This takes helicopter parenting to a whole new level.
Jennifer Lawrence has always had a gift for comedy. She’s naturally funny – check out any interview she’s in and she lights up the room with her zany energy and easy charm. She pulls no punches in this raunchy comedy, going all out on the physical comedy and delivering on the poignant spaces of the film as well. There are a few set pieces that caught me off guard because of how fearless and bold Lawrence is as an actor. With how good she is, it’s the film that lets her down a little. It’s not consistently funny, and the best bits are already in the trailer, which is disappointing.
The movie does try to flesh out the difficulties young people face in adapting to the next phase of their lives, especially when they’ve been sheltered their entire lives. Percy has everything he could possibly want, yet his life is empty, with more friends online than in real life. As Maddie begins her dance of seduction – which is absolutely cringeworthy – Percy doesn’t quite know what to make of her interest, as no one’s really concerned themselves with him before.
Even though it’s easier for Maddie to socialise, she doesn’t allow herself to truly connect with others. She’s never had a meaningful romantic relationship, preferring to pull the plug before things get serious. Percy’s so earnest and amiable that she’s charmed by him, and finds herself wanting to spend time with him. The film ends up developing a sweet friendship between Maddie and Percy, a friendship which Lawrence and Feldman manage to make very believable even though there isn’t much runway to do so. The film works to a certain extent because they’ve crafted very likeable characters.
No Hard Feelings also posits that change is necessary, at any phase of life, even if it’s scary. Maddie’s lived her entire life in the same town, drifting about, holding on to a house because of the ghosts of the past. Just as Percy must come out of his shell and go to Princeton, Maddie should leave town and start her life proper, and the film does well in creating these parallel moments between Maddie and Percy. As much as I love Natalie Morales and Scott MacArthur, they aren’t given much to do as Maddie’s friends. When the movie isn’t focused on Maddie and Percy’s interactions, it’s just not as interesting.
Lawrence proves once again that she’s a force to be reckoned with. It’s a shame, then, that No Hard Feelings isn’t a better film.
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There's a reason why Jennifer Lawrence is one of the youngest Oscar winners. She plays Maddie with such nuance and complexity, and delivers a performance that will make viewers forget the shadiness of the film's premise.
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