A supposedly real Craigslist ad from helicopter parents seeking a young woman to “date” (have sex with) their college-bound introvert son is the inspiration for “No Hard Feelings.” It’s a bizarre, icky request, but also the impetus for Hollywood minds to make a movie that’s an attempted throwback to the raunchy comedies of 20 years ago.
“No Hard Feelings” is a perfectly serviceable, yet forgettable summer comedy, hindered by its cliché efforts at sentimentality, and the fact that the film really isn’t as raunchy as it thinks it is. Is the finished product only funny because of who the star is? Probably, but I try to only judge the movie in front of me: seems like a genuinely funny person, so watching her be funny in a movie is, well, fun.
The Oscar-winning J-Law, fresh off a polar opposite performance in the quietly affecting “” plays the young woman who answers the Craigslist ad. Her character, Maddie, is struggling financially, and needs a quick payday, even if that means hanging out with a lonely, socially awkward 19-year-old (Andrew Barth Feldman as Percy), at the behest of his odd parents (Laura Benanti and Matthew Broderick). The couple is concerned about the lacking social life of their son, who has no friends and seemingly no motivation to change that. The catch: Percy doesn’t know about the deal with Maddie. His parents are carrying out this plan on their own, hoping to protect his fragile self-esteem while finally pulling him out of his shell. (This plot needs secrets: There wouldn’t really be a movie otherwise.)
Hijinks ensue, as Maddie quickly learns Percy isn’t easily seduced: He could never fathom someone taking interest in him. But once he does, he becomes focused on getting to know her before losing his virginity.
Lawrence and Feldman play off each other well and make the most of the cringey — both intentionally and unintentionally — material they’re given from a screenplay by Gene Stupnitsky (who also directed) and John Phillips. At its core, “No Hard Feelings” aims to be like an early 2000s raunchy comedy. There are plenty of funny moments — again, it’s fun watching J-Law do comedy. However, the film misses the cry-laughing, shock-factor, “Can you believe it?” moments I expect from the genre, and what it does offer has mostly been done before. I was repeatedly reminded of the 2004 comedy “The Girl Next Door,” from the general premise down to character arcs and plot beats.
The sentimental, more character-driven aspects of “No Hard Feelings” seem to be more at odds with the film’s comedy than working in tandem with it. That’s what happens when you start with the concept “young woman is hired to sleep with a 19-year-old” and build an entire movie out from there. In the span of roughly 100 minutes, “No Hard Feelings” touches on dating, coming of age, generational differences, parenting, abandonment, betrayal, letting go of the past while embracing the future, among other familiar themes. The film piles on a lot to make the lead characters relatable and empathetic, but ultimately these efforts feel shoehorned in and too undercooked to add anything of value. Besides, Lawrence and Feldman’s chemistry is sweet enough on its own.
The film gets a soft recommendation from me if you think this would be your jam, and a hard pass if you’re perplexed by the concept. “No Hard Feelings” is ultimately a movie I have no strong opinions about, other than I hope J-Law does more comedy. And that’s totally fine. There should be a place in Hollywood in 2023 for a middle-of-the road comedy starring a household name.