Remember in 2005 when Wedding Crashers was heralded as the return of the R-rated studio comedy? Prior to, comedies had devolved somewhat into the deluge of late-nineties high school comedies, PG-13 rated spoofs (a ripple effect of the R-rated Scary Movie in 2000), and Farrelly brother films that showed them quickly coming out of their prime. Old School jump-started the "Frat Pack" era in '03, but it was Crashers that solidified their ability to perform financially and ushered in Apatow's gang who would dominate through the 2010s. This all to say, while I'm as happy as anyone that Jennifer Lawrence's No Hard Feelings is being marketed as the "return of the R-rated mid-budget studio comedy" it ultimately feels more like an Old School than it does a Wedding Crashers. At least in terms of the culture if not also the quality. 

A perfectly funny and surprisingly sweet raunch-fest, writer/director Gene Stupnitsky (Good Boys) guides No Hard Feelings through the familiar beats of a rom-com with an emphasis on the "com" given the more outlandish premise. This is especially of note considering the biggest hurdle the film had to clear was the fact it centers on a thirty-two year-old seducing a nineteen year-old and how, were the roles reversed, this (admitted double standard) would feel a lot more icky. Fortunately, Stupnitsky and co-writer John Phillips balance the potentially uncomfortable parts of their premise by not shying away from them and instead continuing to emphasize the outrageousness of Lawrence's age with the fact Lawrence's Maddie can't really handle just how much older she is than Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman) or how distinct the line between her generation and the next has become.

Of course, the real success of any comedy relies heavily on those performing it and both Lawrence and Feldman make the core relationship work more organically than one might expect after seeing the trailer or hearing said premise. Lawrence, who has to carry the weight of the comedy while convincingly pulling off the heart in the latter half, is all-in on making this work. Having been viewed as such a comedic persona who is inherently and naturally funny for so long it's hard to believe she hasn't tapped into her inner-Jim Carrey before, but she throws caution to the wind as a stunted millennial whose fears and resentments both of rejection and of those she feels reject her lead Maddie to take out her aggressions in mostly hilarious ways making her the perfect yin to Percy's yang as they help balance one another so that each come out the other side more fulfilled and well-rounded. As funny as Lawrence is here, Stupnitsky and Phillips don't sleep on her dramatic skills; employing them in just the right moments to make us invest as hard we've laughed. 

Maddie (Jennifer Lawrence) is tasked with bringing Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman) out of his shell in No Hard Feelings.
Photo by Macall Polay - © 2023 - Sony Pictures Entertainment

Additionally, I do feel the need to state that there were some missed opportunities for some really funny moments here. For instance, when Maddie first meets with Percy's parents (Matthew Broderick and Laura Benanti) and unnecessarily climbs up a set of stairs in her rollerblades it was really disappointing that Stupnitsky then went the whole next scene through their conversation without showing her feet and then when Lawrence stood up and walked over to the mantle that she wasn't still in her rollerblades. I needed a little more of a subplot with Kyle Mooney's babysitter character as well as it feels like there might be some really solid outtakes that found themselves on the cutting room floor featuring he and Lawrence; either that or just make Mooney Lawrence's co-star in her next comedy. Percy's co-worker, Crispin (Jordan Mendoza), gets some of the biggest laughs in the movie yet has very little screen time immediately making me wish he was better utilized whereas if Lawrence delivers on her promise it is Feldman who truly surprises. His rendition of "Maneater" is almost enough to convince me to check out the horrendously titled High School Musical: The Musical: The Series (I won't), but that combined with how well he embodied the naivety and gentleness of Percy is really winning. 

It may take some time and repeat viewings for No Hard Feelings to garner the kind of affection something akin to Old School now feels it holds, but it doesn't feel out of the realm of possibility that this ends up being the beginning of something fresh if not paving the way for more of a landmark revival of the genre.

1 comment:

  1. Mais vous comprenez mieux le cinéma : seuls les fous ont le maximum de liberté. Je veux être dépendant de quelqu'un. Et pour que quelqu'un dépende de moi.