No Hard Feelings (2023) Review

Writer’s note: The second paragraph of this article (just below the first image) contains a basic outline of the film’s premise. There are no spoilers that weren’t already inferred in the film’s own trailer. However, if you want to completely avoid potential spoilers, skip over the second paragraph.

There’s no denying that certain film genres are viewed with less legitimacy than others. If you simply take a glance at the awards races, you’ll quickly see that dramas, biopics, period pieces, and epics are favoured, whereas action, science fiction, fantasy or comedy films are mostly absent. This is the clearest indication that there’s a genre bias towards (and against) certain types of films. Raunchy, R-rated comedies in particular are given the short end of the stick, as they are often perceived as lacking meaningful storytelling. The irony is that there are many films of this nature which are beloved, iconic and endlessly quoted by audiences the world over. National Lampoon’s Animal House (1979), American Pie, Superbad (2007), The Hangover (2009) and Bridesmaids (2011) were all massive hits that are still popular today. However, it seems that today, even audiences are less impressed with sex comedies than they used to be, as evident by the immediate response to No Hard Feelings (2023).

Jennifer Lawrence as Maddie.

Set in Montauk, New York, 33-year-old Uber driver Maddie (Jennifer Lawrence) is facing bankruptcy after her car is repossessed. This is compounded by the fact that she owes property taxes on a home she inherited from her mother. Given Maddie needs a car to earn a living, she is in desperate need of acquiring a replacement vehicle if she is to keep her house. To achieve this, she answers a Craigslist ad posted by a rich couple offering their car as payment for a job. The job in question is to date their 19-year-old son Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman), a timid, shy and nerdy high school graduate just about to begin his studies at Princeton. These parents are afraid their son hasn’t come out of his shell, and want Maddie to bring him out of it by sleeping with him.

With each passing year, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to discuss any film without also discussing the discourse surrounding it. Ideally, we should just be able to engage with a film on its own terms, but so much of the cultural oxygen infects the viewing experience by the time everyone sees it. No Hard Feelings has fallen victim to this in a rather extreme fashion, as the initial trailer prompted levels of controversy beyond what’s usually seen from this type of film. Despite being billed as nothing more than a silly, fun romp, viewers immediately accused No Hard Feelings of making fun of consent, as well as promoting grooming. While it’s true that many of the concepts in films like this transgress social taboos for the sake of humour, it seems rather odd that this fairly standard entry in the genre be shunned, whereas much more shocking sex comedies have been given a pass.

Andrew Barth Feldman and Jennifer Lawrence as Percy and Maddie.

That really is the key element which is utterly perplexing regarding the response to No Hard Feelings, as there’s not a whole lot in the film which is unforgivably offensive. In the classic case of a film explaining itself once you actually sit down to watch it, No Hard Feelings appears to be fully aware of its ‘problematic’ premise, as the characters who would be affected by it are seen dealing with the circumstances in a way a real person might in fact do so . Additionally, no one is rewarded for having behaved badly, so it’s not like the film is condoning the central premise through its storytelling. If something is inappropriate, it’s framed as inappropriate, there’s just a relatively standard sense of humour about layered on top. The fact that the humour intentionally leans into cringe is proof enough that No Hard Feelings isn’t expecting the audience to find any of this comfortable.

That being said, cringe comedy isn’t going to work for everyone, so it’s totally understandable that the humour doesn’t land 100% of the time. This isn’t universal humour designed to elicit belly laughs, so it stands to reason that many viewers may find themselves just watching the events unfold without ever really connecting to the film’s specific wavelength. In the worst cases, some viewers may just force themselves to laugh because they can tell the film is expecting them to do so. In the best cases, No Hard Feelings houses some ingeniously creative and hilarious scenarios which are sure to shock extreme laughter out of you. These moments will likely be what’s most remembered most about No Hard Feelings, and they will probably always prompt a good giggle even on repeat viewings.

Jennifer Lawrence as Maddie.

Interestingly enough, the comedic touches aren’t what sets No Hard Feelings apart, but rather it’s the dramatic touches. As mentioned, the film is fully aware of the taboo nature of the premise, yet it also uses that awareness to craft what is actually a rather cute, heartwarming and (in some cases) fairly tragic story. Instead of mocking consent, there is a lot of attention given to addressing the importance of consent. Instead of prompting grooming, there is plenty of discussion around allowing for natural growth. Instead of telling a story of an older person taking advantage of a younger person, it shows a deep friendship building where both parties learn to overcome their insecurities at their own pace. Oddly, it sometimes feels like the comedic elements get in the way of what is actually a fairly touching narrative, but at the same time this wouldn’t work at all if it wasn’t a comedy at heart, so this is unfortunately a double-edged blade.

What holds the film together is of course the central performances, as none of this would be engaging if Percy and Maddie didn’t have enjoyable on-screen chemistry. As such, the work done by Jennifer Lawrence and Andrew Barth Feldman is very much noticed and appreciated, with both displaying all the charm, lightness, humanity, humour and edge required of them. Lawrence is far more used to dramatic roles, but that doesn’t stop her from using her undeniable range for comedic purposes. Feldman is just as impressive, managing to match the screen presence of not only Lawrence, but also Matthew Broderick and Laura Benanti. Even with his very small resume up to this point, it’s not hard to see Feldman eventually reaching great heights with both his acting and singing skills.

Andrew Barth Feldman and Jennifer Lawrence as Percy and Maddie.

All in all, No Hard Feelings will probably go down in history as a film which was heavily misunderstood upon its release. It’s highly likely that it’ll be more appreciated by the wider audience once some time goes by, but the sad thing is that it definitely wouldn’t have received as hard a backlash if it had come out 10 or 20 years earlier.


Best way to watch it: Without bias.

No Hard Feelings Poster.
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Robert Fantozzi

Passionate filmmaker. Proud Italian-South African. Total Nerd.

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