Wednesday, June 21, 2023

No prizes for ‘No Hard Feelings'


    With or without clothes, Jennifer Lawrence knows how to hold the screen. 
    And, yes, newcomer Andrew Barth Feldman makes a fine teenage foil for Lawrence’s character in No Hard Feelings
    Comedies are nothing without contrivance, but some contrivances are better than others, and No Hard Feelings can’t parley a sex-worker premise into a consistently winning entertainment.
     Lawrence plays a down-on-her luck resident of Montauk, Long Island who answers an ad placed by two affluent parents. These overly involved parents want their son to loosen up (i.e., lose his virginity) prior to leaving for his freshman year at Princeton.
    Heaven forbid a shy but bright kid arrive at Princeton equipped only to learn something.
     Employing her substantial gifts for physical comedy, Lawrence plays Maddie Barker, a woman who hates watching wealthy visitors invade her hometown, a seaside heaven that once welcomed folks who weren't seven-figure earners.
     A remnant of older days,  Maddie has fallen behind in her taxes, and might lose the house her late mother left her. 
     She’s desperate when she sees the ad that sets the plot in motion. Wanted: a young woman to help break through the shell of inhibited 19-year-old kid. If she succeeds, Maddie will be given a Buick Regal, a car that might save her career as an Uber driver.
    In the movie's opening scene, a tow-truck driving former boyfriend (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) reposes Maddie's car.
     About those clothes. In a night-time skinny dipping scene, Lawrence does full-frontal nudity as she races from the ocean to confront pranksters who threaten to steal her clothes, as well as the clothes of Feldman’s Percy.
      Necessary? Not really. Maybe it's meant to impress us with its boldness.
      Although most of the movie revolves around 32-year-old Maddie and her relationship with Percy, a small supporting cast doesn't have much to do.
     Laura Benanti and Matthew Broderick play Percy’s parents. Natalie Morales and Scott MacArthur portray Maddie’s friends.
      It’s pretty easy to guess what’s going to happen. What starts as a crass plunge into sex work for the intimacy-averse Maddie softens as she develops a genuine fondness for Percy, a kid who doesn't want to have sex with someone he doesn't really know.
      Despite a formulaic backdrop, No Hard Feelings, which was directed by Gene Stupnitsky (Good Boys), occasionally detours into moments that feel genuine and Lawrence makes sure that Maddie barges her way through all manner of difficulties. 
     A few moments suggest what might have been. When Percy plays piano and sings his version of Hall & Oates' Maneater, the movie takes a welcome and unexpected turn.
     Some of the movie’s comic high points (Percy riding naked on the hood of a car, for example) strain to be funny, raunchy and memorable. They miss the mark. 
     Too often, No Hard Feelings follows suit. It's not as bad as you might have feared given its premise nor as good as you might have hoped. I guess that adds up to a fair to middling effort.

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