No Hard Feelings (2023) Directed by Gene Stupnitsky
Many people have raved about how this oddball sex comedy feels like both an innocuous entertainment and a whimsical, passable diversion reminiscent of other successful comedies with unorthodox themes. However, the only thing awkward or quirky about this film that I found was its tremendous inability to be a funny contemporary paradox – and a silly generational dichotomy. A bourgeois couple (awkwardly played by Matthew Broderick and Laura Benanti) concerned about the introversion of their 19-year-old son Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman) hire a desperate 32-year-old woman Maddie (Jennifer Lawrence) to date their son. They are confident that a date with a girl will give him the courage to be more social and have higher self-esteem. To the letter, everything your mind predicts as a viewer comes true in this curious but simplistic cliché comedy. Though its biggest problems are not its unavoidable predictability, the ordinary plot precludes introspection by being maddeningly indiscreet. Jennifer Lawrence is the heart of the film; a decent performance that is uncommonly raunchy and consistently sarcastic. At least seeing her in various hilarious situations keeps the film from being a complete dud; unlike the boring, inflexible, hackneyed material she works with, Lawrence as Maddie is perpetually playful.
The narrative patterns highlight generational parallels that never quite convinced me. Apparently, for the filmmakers of this movie if you are in your thirties, you are a decrepit old person stranded in youthful contemporaneity. And if you’re under 30 you’re an aimless, apathetic, and susceptible teenager. Both conjectures may be true, but I doubt there is any actual humor in their dialectic. For example, Maddie is a woman who has just lost her only means of earning money to pay off the debts on her house, the car she uses to uber. She takes on the job of seducing the weird son of a wealthy couple in order to get a new car. The script aims to empathize with this character through individual emotionalism. For some she will be an ethically flawed figure and for others she will be a morally correct character. On the other hand, Percy meets all the generational stereotypes of a generation that is offended by everything, yet this character exhibits no dramatic qualities that elicit empathy, only simple pity, which I find pathetic. Director Gene Stupnitsky seems to have a fetish for ill-mannered humor, his previous work makes that evident, and here he firmly establishes himself as the guy that production companies turn to when they need to release a bawdy or cheeky project to the big screen. The execution of his risqué comedy here has, in my estimation, volatile results, and while never aiming to be a plausible comedy, let alone a clever one, the narrative suffers enormously from a paucity of dramatic coherence. It never decides whether it wants to exploit more its naughty humor or the existential emotional turmoil of the two protagonists. Perspectives are fragmented, for obvious reasons, but the dynamics insinuate the opposite.