Film Review – No Hard Feelings

No Hard Feelings

No Hard Feelings

There was a time when a movie like No Hard Feelings (2023) dominated the box office. These were mid-budget, star-driven vehicles where the audience came not for the story but to see their favorite actors on the big screen. Things have certainly changed throughout the years. The rise of blockbuster franchises that rely on nostalgia and established source material (or “Content”) has made it difficult for studios to drive ticket sales on star-power alone. Sure, there are exceptions (Tom Cruise and Leonardo DiCaprio are the two biggest examples), but they are few and far between lately. Sometimes seeing a movie that isn’t a sequel, remake, or based on an already popular IP is a nice change of pace. A film doesn’t have to cost hundreds of millions of dollars with an aggressive ad campaign to turn a profit. 

That’s why seeing Jennifer Lawrence cast here is a welcomed sight. This is a case where the draw is in Lawrence’s charisma and name recognition. The final product is a raunchy comedy not too far removed from the likes of American Pie (1999) and Superbad (2007). To see her let loose and have fun with the rest of the cast is a breath of fresh air. How many times have we seen a summer release featuring superheroes trying to save all existence from utter destruction? It’s not that I don’t like those kinds of stories, it’s that I don’t like them being the only option


Maybe I’m being a little too lenient on this one. If we step back and see the narrative for what it is, we find a familiar story with characters going through an awkward stage of their lives. But it has an earnest quality that is hard to ignore. Plus it’s pretty gosh darn funny. Directed by Gene Stupnitsky (who also cowrites with John Phillips), the premise is so ridiculous that it could have come straight out of a 1980s teen comedy. Maddie (Lawrence) is in the middle of a financial crisis. She has already lost her car and is on the verge of losing her house. Desperate, Maddie answers an online ad from the wealthy Beckers (Laura BenantiMatthew Broderick) who hire her to date their son Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman) before he leaves for college. The Beckers believe Percy’s social ineptness will cause him problems as an adult. They call on Maddie’s services in hopes of giving Percy a little self confidence. “Date him, date him hard” as Broderick’s character stipulates.

We can kinda see where all this is going, right? What starts out as a financial agreement soon turns into something different once Maddie and Percy get to know each other. This is where Lawrence and Feldman’s on screen chemistry carries the narrative. Lawrence gives her character a funny, rough around the edges attitude. For Feldman, he gives Percy a nebbishness that is organic and natural – he is shy and apprehensive around Maddie, but isn’t so closed off that he becomes a caricature. Their interaction is the center of No Hard Feelings, as the two start at complete opposite ends of the social spectrum and slowly meet in the middle. Her attempts to seduce him are clumsy and humorous, but never humiliating. Percy does not judge Maddie for being sexually free and she does not judge him for being a virgin. In fact, it’s those qualities that causes the two to admire one another. Even though the writing is a little hammy at times (there’s a running gag about Maddie being too old for Percy), seeing Lawrence and Feldman play off one another makes for a lot of the fun.

The production doesn’t avoid its R rating. Some of the bawdy elements come as a surprise. A late night skinny-dipping scene turns into something entirely unexpected, and a physical gag involving a finger trap toy catches us off guard to the point of a jump scare. But beneath the sex jokes and slapstick comedy is a level of sweetness that makes Maddie and Percy’s relationship more interesting than it probably should be. In a way, the two are in the exact same position. They are both facing major life changes and are having trouble adjusting to that fact. For Maddie, her home is one of the few ties she has to her parents. She refuses to let it go even if it means having to date a complete stranger. For Percy, adulthood is only a few years away, yet his reliance on his parents and the safety net of his childhood home act as a barrier for him to be his own person. Both have something to offer and lots of potential, but their pasts make it difficult for them to step out and take a chance.


Their connection is best displayed while the two are having dinner at a fancy restaurant. At Maddie’s urging, Percy gets up and walks over to a nearby piano to play and sing. The reaction on Maddie’s face tells us everything we need to know about what she is thinking. Throughout most of the runtime, Stupnitsky’s direction is efficient but unremarkable, except for this moment. While Percy plays, the camera slowly zooms into Lawrence’s face, allowing us to peek inside her mind and experience her thoughts and feelings without uttering a word. For the first time, Maddie sees Percy as more than just a financial conquest. Of course, things ramp back up and the hijinks resume, but the fact that Stupnitsky and his team allowed the scene to play out shows them aiming for something more than just laughs. So often in comedies, the need to get to the next punchline prevents the narrative from stepping back and taking a breath. That’s what makes this sequence the best scene of the whole film, because we are given the time to see Maddie and Percy as individuals.

No Hard Feelings isn’t without its issues. Its story is predictable, and the third act is constructed unevenly that it feels like things were slapped together in a rush. I’m not saying this will go down as one of the great comedies, but it’s certainly a good one. It’s a throwback with a modern twist, headlined by a star who isn’t afraid to be goofy, silly, and sincere – sometimes that’s all a movie really needs to succeed.




Allen is a moviegoer based out of Seattle, Washington. His hobbies include dancing, playing the guitar, and, of course, watching movies.

You can reach Allen via email or Twitter

View all posts by this author