Most of us grew up in the age of the movie star. By movie star, I don’t mean an actor famous for wearing a superhero costume, acting in front of green screens, or going viral on TikTok. I’m talking about bonafide superstars who are filled with charisma, acted in real movies, and had the ability to carry a movie on their backs. Unfortunately, this idea is slowly dying—we don’t make any movie stars anymore.
Our last remaining movie stars—Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, and Sandra Bullock, to name a scant few—can still exude their stardom whenever they take center stage. However, we haven’t ushered in a new era of A-list actors since the aforementioned generation. Yes, Tom Holland, Timothée Chalamet, and Zendaya are very famous people. But, none of them have been able to drive audiences to the movies solely due to the fact that they’re acting in the movie. There always has to be a grab (in other words, an IP-driven story) in addition to their names attached to the project to get viewers in seats.
Depending on who you ask, Jennifer Lawrence is part of that dying breed of movie stars or is our only movie star from the young generation. Her career started off with a ton of promise as she worked in interesting films with interesting directors and, of course, she was Katniss Everdeen. Sadly, after the Hunger Games series ended, she starred in a string of bad movies, leaving many people wondering if we were premature in anointing her.
In No Hard Feelings, Lawrence not only shows that she is truly one of our great movie stars but that the hard-R, raunchy studio comedy is not dead. That with an undeniable star who’s willing to give it their all, this type of movie still has a place in our current cinematic landscape. This isn’t a perfect movie by any stretch. No Hard Feelings has some glaring flaws, but when it works and Lawrence is giving 100%, it is an absolute blast and a fun way to kick off the summer movie season.
Maddie Barker (Lawrence) has lived in Montauk, New York her whole life, working as an Uber driver and bartender to keep up with raising property taxes. After her car gets seized, she can no longer be an Uber driver and is faced with the threat of losing her mother’s house. She sees an ad about dating 19-year-old Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman) to make him less awkward, and, in return, his parents will give her a car. The pair become close and learn about friendship amidst wild hijinks.
While some of them weren’t initially received well, bawdy studio comedies are some of the best movies of the past 20 years (see: Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Anchorman, Step Brothers). No Hard Feelings isn’t on the level of those comedies, but most certainly shares aspects with them. It all starts with having over-the-top, somewhat offensive, and extremely physical comedy.
There are jokes in almost every line of this movie but where it becomes laugh-out-loud funny is in the comedy set pieces. A naked beach fight scene at night will bring the house down in any screening of this movie. I could not believe what I was seeing on screen and had to applaud Lawrence for going for it, leaving no stone unturned. This one scene is more impressive than any Marvel fight scene of the recent releases.
This scene is immediately followed by another nude comedy set piece that’s almost as funny, and again, reminds you of those 2000s comedies that were a constant in the zeitgeist. There’s no reason for a fight scene on a beach or a chase scene while someone lies on the hood of the car (let alone people being naked in each of those situations). Yet, it’s because it’s so absurd and the actors are so game that it always works and elicits laughs. It’s gratuitous, yes, but these movies have to hit that point otherwise they would be boring slogs.
When No Hard Feelings loses its carefree attitude, it becomes predictable and generic. The conflict and resolution are not surprising and can be seen from a mile away. This usually isn’t an issue in comedies because they mask that with good jokes, one-liners, or hilarious situations. Nonetheless, not all the jokes land in this movie, and there’s a surprising amount of serious scenes. Usually, the studio comedies would have one serious scene in the climax and that would be it. This film has 1-2 extra humorless sequences that could have been easily replaced with a killer set piece of humor.
A rushed third act devoid of comedy also leaves somewhat of a bitter taste in your mouth as the movie ends. The previous 90-95 minutes are such a blast that it’s surprising that Jury Duty (a fantastic show) director Gene Stupnitsky and writer Lee Eisenberg couldn’t stick a better landing. I was expecting a grand comedic scene to wrap a bow on everything, but No Hard Feelings oddly opts for a conventional and quieter climax.
Even when the movie falters, Lawrence keeps it afloat with her charm, excellent comedic timing, and absolutely impeccable physical acting. No matter who her scene partner is, she has terrific chemistry with everyone and plays off them perfectly. She has a back-and-forth with Percy’s classmate in a restaurant that is rib-ticklingly funny. Both of them trade great insults, but I have to say, Amalia Yoo’s character calling Maddie “ma’am” might have been the hardest I laughed at in the movie. Lawrence proves she is a bonafide movie star and the perfect actress for studio comedies.
Feldman is quite good too, especially with his own comic timing. I would’ve liked to see more characterization for Percy but Feldman does an admirable job with what he’s given and holds his own in his scenes with Lawrence. One aspect of the 2000s studio comedies was a fantastic supporting cast and No Hard Feelings has some incredibly forgettable side characters. They cast good actors (Natalie Morales, Matthew Broderick, Kyle Mooney), but none of them have a ton of screen time or a stand-out line. Once again, this is surprising coming from the Jury Duty team that created some of the best supporting sitcom characters in recent TV history.
If anything, No Hard Feelings is worth watching for Jennifer Lawrence’s performance alone. She’s a special actress and this movie would be a trainwreck without her. I do feel the movie is always trying and fails to match her greatness. She is the perfect vessel for a movie like this and, hopefully, this is the first of many raunchy studio comedies for her.