When it comes to Gene Stupnitsky’s newest sex-comedy, there seems to be a large gap between critics and fans, with the film getting a respective score of 68% and 88% on Rotten Tomatoes. After seeing it, I’m definitely in the ‘fan’ category. This movie is a really smart evolution of raunchy classics like The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005) or American Pie (1999). It follows Maddie, an Uber driver who needs a car. Her wishes are granted via a Craigslist ad offering a Buick to anyone who will ‘date’ a couple’s son so he can gain confidence before leaving to college; but his awkwardness and anxiety makes the task harder than Maddie expects. The trailer might spoil a lot of the film’s biggest laughs, but I think it hides the movie’s heart, as well as the innovative way it engages with issues of class, gender and family.
Basing the film in Montauk allowed for Stupnitsky to examine what it means to live in a tourist-heavy economy. The rich who merely vacation in the area are called ‘summer people,’ and the script makes it clear their getaway homes are raising property taxes, driving locals out of the area. Maddie’s resistance to this gentrification, and her general sourness towards the summer people, are already understandable, but become even more so after we learn about her background. The second half of the movie is filled with these attempts to dive into or expand characters’ psycho-emotional landscapes, and I’ve seen a lot of reviews say this is their biggest problem with the movie: it seems to be two different films mashed into one. On one hand it’s a throwback to the crass, almost lewd flicks that once dominated box offices; on the other, it’s a gentle look at two people whose loneliness bridges a generational gap. As usual, I’m going to say I couldn’t disagree more strongly. I think the film is smart because it attempts to show us who these characters are as people. There are definitely moments where the comedy slows down (such is life), but we should be applauding filmmakers taking these kinds of swings. Our movies don’t have to be simply one or the other. It’s this duality that really makes the film different from most offerings in this genre.
If this were Superbad (2007) or The Girl Next Door (2004), the awkward guy would get the dream girl and credits would roll. Instead, both characters are forced to confront who they are as people, and grow in the process of doing so. The age gap is strange, but Maddie and viewers are constantly reminded of its creepiness, and I think the film itself challenges this nicely. This isn’t to say that No Hard Feelings fights what it is. There are definitely a lot of moments where Stupnitsky and co lean into the genre they’re working within; but I think this awareness of self and audience expectations, and a willingness to play with those expectations, make for a really engaging watch. I also think the class element of the film is great. Maddie’s trying to save her house from foreclosure due to rising housing costs, and relies on exploiting a summer person’s child in the process of doing so. In one scene, Percy complains about his lack of friends, the disconnect with his parents, etc., and Maddie soberingly says “I’m gonna lose my house.” Jennifer Lawrence’s line delivery here, and throughout the film, is a testament to the strong acting in this movie.
Leaving behind the big-budget franchises and Oscar-bait arthouse films that launched her to superstardom, there’s a kind of freedom in Jennifer Lawrence’s acting. She has a phenomenal ability to go from sensuality to outrageous hilarity in a matter of seconds, which speaks to the level of commitment she brings to each scene. Her comedic timing was also on-point, knowing just when to hit us with punchlines that had the theater in stitches. I hope she can continue doing the projects she wants to, because that heart comes through onscreen! Andrew Barth Feldman is just as great playing Percy; he’s mastered the art of being awkward to a science, stuttering and stumbling his way through the film in the best of ways. Together, they have great chemistry and bring a lot of dynamic energy to the screen, especially when it comes to some of the physical comedy in the film (Percy accidentally punching Maddie in the throat, Maddie body-slamming teens on a beach, etc.). This is all lensed by some decent cinematography.
I wouldn’t exactly call this film a visual feast, but there’s some great use of practical lighting throughout, and Eigil Bryld does something that seems to be impossible for other cinematographers working today, at least on major studio releases: he lights a night scene well! You can see the actors’ faces, the background, everything. There are also some pans and zooms which are timed with a lot of humor, and the editing does a similarly great job of creating even more laughs with certain cuts. The use of a handheld camera in some scenes both injected tons of energy into the frame and gave the feel of being there, beside the characters.
Overall, I think this movie had a lot of heart, and was a great update to the sex-comedy genre that seems to have petered off after the early 2000s. No Hard Feelings is proof that this kind of comedy is still possible, and the small changes it made to the formula create a big difference as far as the modern viewing experience goes. If you’ve already seen Asteroid City, definitely catch this in theaters near you! If you enjoyed this review, consider subscribing to the blog’s Patreon by clicking here! It helps pay the various fees that come with running a website, and keeps this blog ad-free and independent. There are also some cool benefits for those who choose to support the blog including: suggesting which movies I review, getting personalized movie recommendations, access to free giveaways and more!