The R-rated studio comedy has become one of the larger victims to the streaming era. The days of big, successful studio comedies like Bridesmaids, Girls Trip and The Hangover have severely diminished when streaming services began to pick them off one by one. While the occasional Game Night, or high-concept comedy squeak by, we’re seeing far less raunchy comedies in the theatrical marketplace than we’re used to. Enter Good Boys director Gene Stupnitsky, with a reminder of what R-rated studio comedies used to look like, before the Apatow-inspired, improv-led comedies flooded the marketplace. The director’s latest, a relatively simplistic vehicle for its Oscar-winning star/producer Jennifer Lawrence, is a sweet and irresistible comedy that is exactly what summer-time comedies should made of.
Lawrence is Maddie, a down-on-her-luck bartender living in a sleepy New York coastal town. She lives in her childhood home inherited from her deceased mother but Maddie, also a part-time Uber driver, owes $2ok in property taxes and just got her car towed. She sees a craigslist ad from two wealthy Helicopter parents (Matthew Broderick and Laura Benanti) looking for someone to “date” their shy, introverted 19-year-old son Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman, Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen) and coax him out of his shell before he heads to Princeton in the fall. The exchange for turning their son into a man, a nicely-tuned Buick.
Directed by Good Boys filmmaker Gene Stupnitsky, No Hard Feelings is a return to the R-rated comedies that used to reign supreme throughout the 80’s, 90’s and throughout the 2000’s/2010’s. After the influence of improv-heavy comedies, Stupnitsky’s film actually follows a proper story structure, and has purpose beyond the sweet, raunchy humor. The film does have some sizable belly laughs, but it’s not overly broad. No Hard Feelings exists in large part as a star vehicle for Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence, who hadn’t has the grandest showcase for her comedic chops in years, taking several years off from work, returns in an all-encompassing star vehicle that reminds you why Lawrence was a star in the first place. She gets to revel in the bawdy nature of the role, while also being deeply goofy, sexy and personal. Her comedic abilities range from audacious, Goldie Hawn-like physical comedy, such as getting humorously maced in the face to a daring and completely hilarious nude fight scene at a beach. It takes an actor of Lawrence’s caliber to make some of these moments, the kind of inspired bits of raunchy comedy that films like this would be made infamous for, work, but Lawrence gives her every ounce to the role and it pays off to great effect.
Andrew Barth Feldman, a 21-year-old Broadway star is a great screen partner opposite Lawrence. In a role that could have easily been screechy and grating, the actor is rather subtle and the exchanges between Feldman and Lawrence have an unexpected tenderness. The film has a firm sense of heart that pairs well with the charms of its two leads. While the third act spends a bit too much time seeping in melodrama, the pair of leads bring an authenticity to their respective roles, making the drama feel natural and involving.
Perhaps the best sequence in the film is set at a restaurant where Feldman plays the Hall & Oates track “Maneater” on the piano, which is skillfully handled with emotion and nuance. The song, itself, a running motif, serves as a turning point in the film and has the most emotional complexity and depth, largely utilizing Lawrence — who can work the living hell out of a slowly moving close-up — and Feldman’s deeply felt performance. There’s a push/pull dynamic between Lawrence and Feldman that continuously finds new, interesting wrinkles. Both characters are learning from one another and their chemistry is downright irresistible. The script, written by Stupnitsky and John Phillips (Dirty Grandpa) has just enough clever insight into the socio-economic background of the characters, particularly in how it portrays several generations dealing with their financial woes.
No Hard Feelings is a properly funny, well made studio comedy with Jennifer Lawrence in full control of her movie-star prowess. Director Gene Stupnitsky has made one of the finest recent examples of what studio comedies used to, and can, bring to the screen.