Jennifer Lawrence returns to the Hollywood mainstream with a movie that both avoids its own premise and tries way too hard
An odd feeling strikes two minutes into No Hard Feelings, the new film from writer-director Gene Stupnitsky. That's because watching a studio comedy, in a theatre, has become such a rarity in the modern age that doing so now feels genuinely surreal, like an act of time travel. We used to be spoilt for choice; now every mid-budget studio comedy arrives with the burden of having to “revive the genre.” So does this new one, marketed as a return to the raunchy sex comedies of the early to mid-2000s, have what it takes? Sadly, no – and that's because it isn't really a raunchy sex comedy at all.
At least we have Jennifer Lawrence, in her first mainstream film role since 2019's Dark Phoenix. Outside of her obvious movie star appeal and acting prowess, Lawrence's goofy, down-to-earthness has rarely been translated to the screen – her roles have been more stoic than stupid. No Hard Feelings feels designed to finally bring that zany, what-will-she-say-next energy to the screen, almost as though it were written explicitly with the actress in mind (she also served as the film's co-producer).
The premise here is designed backwards to an absurd degree, even by silly comic movie standards: Uber-driver Mattie (Lawrence) has lost her car, and so she seeks out an ad in a paper from two rich parents (played by Matthew Broderick and Laura Benanti), who want their introvert son, Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman), to lose his virginity before he goes off to Princeton in the fall. Wait, there's more! In exchange for sleeping with him, they'll… give Mattie the use of their old car, for some reason? It's hyper-specific to the point you expect a joke to be made. But No Hard Feelings isn't that kind of movie.
What kind is it, then? Stupnitsky's last film, the well-received Good Boys, turned what appeared to be a foul-mouthed coming-of-ager into something sweeter than you expected. That seems to be the intention here, too. But that movie was funnier than this one, with better jokes, and was more successful in its late pivot towards the schmaltzy. As the gags increasingly miss and eventually tail off entirely in No Hard Feelings, though, what should have been a wild hoot awkwardly segues into the realms of predictable, wholesome drama, all while trying way too hard to undo the set-up of its weirdo premise.
And actually, it's the sense of trying too hard that lingers most. The gross-out set-pieces – one of which has Lawrence kicking ass on a beach while completely nude for what is supposed to feel like an awkwardly long time – land with the energy of your self-described “crazy' co-worker telling you about their mad weekend. It's also a movie that forgets good comedy has a lot to do with pacing: there's a choppy feel to the edit that gives everything a strange “offness,” with one-liners left hanging in a void in a way that greatly reduces their impact. The rhythms of comedy are as elusive as a consistent tone.
Is there actually a place for a raunchy sex comedy in 2023? This movie, unfortunately, won't provide us with an answer. It's good to see Lawrence moving into more freewheeling and fun territory, at least, and her God-given ability to light up the screen is ever apparent. But what's lacking here is material worthy of her talent. Somehow this movie makes her less funny than she appears to be in real life. No hard feelings for giving it a shot – but also very few feelings at all.
No Hard Feelings is released in UK cinemas on 21 June.Where to watch