- No Hard Feelings
- Directed by Gene Stupnitsky
- Written by Gene Stupnitsky and John Phillips
- Starring Jennifew Lawrence, Andrew Barth Feldman and Matthew Broderick
- Classification 18A; 104 minutes
- Opens in theatres June 23
“It’s gotta be a joke, right?” That’s the reaction that Maddie, a debt-ridden Uber driver in Montauk, N.Y., has when she encounters a Craigslist ad in which two wealthy parents are offering a lightly used Buick Regal to any young woman who will help their sheltered 19-year-old son Percy shed his virginity before he heads off to Princeton. But it is also bound to be the question that many audiences will ask themselves while watching No Hard Feelings, a distressingly laboured and ostensibly raunchy romcom that can no easier land a gag than Jason Biggs can impregnate an apple pie.
Designed as a throwback to a simpler time when R-rated comedies didn’t need Deadpool to draw in crowds, No Hard Feelings tries so very hard to shock – to score that collective audience gasp – that it ends up clutching its own pearls. And its try-hard failure could end up killing the big-screen comedy for good, too.
At least Jennifer Lawrence won’t be the lead sentence of the genre’s obituary. As the commitment-phobic Maddie – can’t have a woman eagerly pursuing sex without her having some sort of attachment issues, can we? – the actress is fiercely game and wildly committed. Despite being saddled with a role that feels like it was written as fan-fiction for Amy Schumer 15 years ago, Lawrence tries her mightiest to make any – just one! – of the comedic moments work. Yet she is foiled by a script whose one-liners are cockeyed, and direction by Gene Stupnitsky consistently half-a-beat off, as if the filmmaker was overseeing the set via a wonky Zoom connection.
Through a set of theoretically outlandish – but in practice rather tame – set-pieces, Stupnitsky’s film quickly becomes an exercise in performance anxiety, consistently blowing its potential just before the big moment arrives. It isn’t easy to scuttle a scene featuring a skinny-dipping Lawrence fighting off a group of obnoxious teens who stole her clothes – think of Eastern Promises’ naked bathhouse brawl, but played for chuckles – yet somehow Stupnitsky manages to fumble every opportunity for big, boisterous, sexy fun. Each laugh that the film manages to wring ends up being quieter, sadder, limper than the next.
What’s most depressing, though, is that in addition to Lawrence, every performer here seems to be giving the entirety of themselves toward fixing a broken film.
As the sad-sack Percy who Maddie has been recruited to seduce, Andrew Barth Feldman subtly balances naivety with tenderness. And on the sidelines, reliable comedic players Kyle Mooney (Saturday Night Live), Ebon Moss-Bachrach (The Bear) and Natalie Morales (Parks and Recreation) do an awful lot with so very little. Even Matthew Broderick, cast as Percy’s well-meaning dad, stirs stronger feelings than his character is actually afforded to provoke. Guess the joke’s on them.