No Hard Feelings
Jennifer Lawrence's romantic comedy is creepy and bland
Romantic comedies are having an irregular time at the box office. 2022 had surprising box office hits like The Lost City (2022) and Ticket to Paradise (2022), but also some deafening bombs like Bros (2022). The sad reality is that the genre has largely moved to streaming, where franchises are blossoming (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018), Tall Girl (2019), The Kissing Booth (2018)), on Netflix especially. As such, it feels like quite the event whenever we have a theatrically released rom-com, such as the recent No Hard Feelings (2023).
No Hard Feelings follows Maddie (Jennifer Lawrence), a struggling Montauk native, who’s work as a bartender and Uber driver is not helping her make ends meet. When she falls behind on her payments and has her car impounded, Maddie resolves to respond to an ad where a wealthy couple (Matthew Broderick, Laura Benanti) ask for a woman to “date” their shy and reclusive 18-year-old son (Andrew Barth Feldman) before he goes to college, in exchange for their old car.
No Hard Feelings is only the second film from director Gene Stupnitsky, who cut his teeth in The Office (2007-2013) and whose most recent film was the “foul-mouthed tweens” comedy Good Boys (2019). No Hard Feelings follows the trend of attempting to be racy and explicit, and yet the film is constantly playing it safe throughout its runtime. No Hard Feelings feels like the type of romantic comedy that ChatGPT would write; every beat and character is predictable and derivative. There’s no attempt at bringing about any original thought or twist to the narrative. At some points one might mistake the film for attempting satire, in how cookie-cutter and by-the-numbers it is constructing its sequences.
The more daring elements of No Hard Feelings are perhaps the most unintendedly controversial. I thought romantic comedies had learned against this kind of “grooming” romantic comedy after the creepy Woody Allen films that utilized this age gap as romantic (Manhattan (1979), Café Society (2016), A Rainy Day in New York (2019)), or even the horrendously mistaken Never Been Kissed (1999), where an undercover 30-year-old, infiltrates a high school and starts romancing a teenager. Licorice Pizza (2021) sought to tell a more complex story, where the age gap and maturity levels forced viewers to contend with how that relationship could work, never fully endorsing or condemning its characters. However, within No Hard Feelings and it’s clear depictions of heroes and villains, one can’t help thinking how unimaginably creepy the plot is.
There is also a scene in No Hard Feelings were Lawrence, in full frontal nudity, beats up three teenagers who were stealing her clothes whilst she was skinny dipping. This scene serves no plot or character purpose and seems to be solely an exploitative leering by the male filmmakers. As a society, I thought we had been moving away from this kind of objectification, or at least, wanting to equate male characters and their nudity to what female actresses have to undergo. Yet, No Hard Feelings had only eyes for one specific naked body. One could try and spin this depiction as “empowering” to Lawrence (she does serve as a producer on the film after all), especially in light of the nude pictures of her that leaked online a couple of years ago. This specific scene could be seen in that context as a reclaiming of Lawrence’s nude image. Nevertheless, the way the scene is shot and its extensive runtime and uselessness within the film reeks of something far more lecherous.
Lawrence is charming enough in the lead role, and it is nice to see the publicly genial and boisterous actress has some fun on screen after many serious movies. She’s paired with a talented Barth Feldman who sadly has no chemistry with her whatsoever. This deflates the chance of staving off the air of creepiness when looking at their relationship on paper, as such it derails the core attraction of No Hard Feelings.
In the end, No Hard Feelings is an extremely forgetful romantic comedy. You’ll hardly remember what happened when the first credits start to roll. The creepy dynamic between the leads along with some questionable directing, and some bland and unoriginal humor make for another dud of a rom-com theatrically.