It breaks my brain that Jennifer Lawrence had never starred in an R-rated comedy before 2023. When she was the biggest movie star in Hollywood for a year or two in the early 2010s, her persona basically was “star of an R-rated comedy.” It seems so obvious. But this is her first outing in the genre (excluding arty dramedies). I really hope it’s not her last: raunchy comedy is such a natural fit for Lawrence that she makes No Hard Feelings an easy, fun watch even when its joke hit rate isn’t batting at an MVP level. Lawrence just captures the tone of the material so well.
But I need not equivocate: No Hard Feelings is actually quite solid beyond the casting of the lead. The biggest hiccup is that it requires the audience not be turned off by its ooky premise: A 32-year-old woman gets hired by a geeky 19-year-old’s parents to seduce him, take his virginity, and thereby increase his social confidence. Lawrence, and the film by extension, steamrolls over the edgy material with such a funny performance that never puts into question the tastelessness of protagonist Maddie’s actions. She’s scummy: we know it, she knows it, the movie knows it. Accepting that allows the film to function. Honestly, it’s almost progressive in subverting the sex-hungry teen boy tropes.
In spite of the eyebrow-raising premise, No Hard Feelings is, at its core, a sweet and generous film. Like American Pie and plenty of the good sex comedies before it (and very few of the bad ones), it understands that its hapless heroes are kind and humane at their core, their issues with their sex lives basically manifestations of their own cluelessness. By the end of the movie, not only has everyone slept with someone, but they’re all the wiser and kinder for it.
Starring opposite Lawrence is Andrew Barth Feldman, a gawkier and more adorable Timothee Chalamet clone. (He actually looks a lot like Rick Astley in the “Never Gonna Give You Up” video.) Feldman is clearly second fiddle but gets plenty of chances to be funny: He nails both the broad stuff, like a gag where he rides on a car windshield, and line deliveries on the fringes, like a throwaway about being upset that a restaurant doesn’t have Pepsi. Feldman, a Broadway star, also gets to show off his musicality: He delivers half-funny-half-touching piano rendition of Hall and Oates’ “Maneater.”
The supporting cast is quite fun as well: Matthew Broderick appears as the rich dad of Feldman’s character Percy and delivers some charming polite smarm. Natalie Morales, always welcome, is terrific as Maddie’s pregnant friend. Hasan Minhaj is hysterical in one scene as a sleazy hookup of Maddie’s.
The film has one instantly iconic visual gag. Like Joy Ride from earlier this year, it weaponizes its star’s incredible beauty with some unexpected and comic nudity. There is some visceral outrageousness in Lawrence viciously beating up snotty teenagers while au naturel that had me cackling.
No Hard Feelings is hampered just a bit with narrative convolutions: The central premise requires a Rube Goldberg setup involving a car being towed by an ex, a bill due date, an abrupt firing, and a strange Craigslist posting all aligning perfectly. Yet it’s not a very plotty movie: Plenty of scenes and characters pleasantly drift by. This is no tightly-wound screwball comedy. But it’s engaging and breezy, and it moves quickly.
Perhaps I’m too easy on No Hard Feelings because there’s been such a dearth of R-rated comedies the past five years. But I do think it’s a genuinely fun time, and I hope it’s the first of many such pure comedy vehicles for a Jennifer Lawrence.