By Laurence Lerman / New York City
The best-known and best-liked actress of her generation, the always game Jennifer Lawrence, returned to the big screen in a big way this week with the arrival of her latest movie, the R-rated comedy No Hard Feelings.
No Hard Feelings opened wide on 3,208 screens in North America on Friday, June 23, ringing up $15 million, which isn’t bad for a theatrical comedy these days. It landed in fourth place for the weekend, following Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse in the top spot with $19.3 million, Disney/Pixar’s animated adventure Elemental with $18.5 million and the superhero epic The Flash with $15.3 million.
A lively, hard-R comedy (and a sort of romantic comedy) that combines the gross-out oomph of a Porky’s movie with the occasional late-blooming coming-of-age cleverness and insight of The Graduate, No Hard Feelings was directed by Gene Stupinsky, a frequent director and co-writer of TV’s venerable The Office. Stupinsky co-authored the screenplay with John Phillips.
The movie trains its eye on the financially strapped, thirtyish Maddie (Lawrence), an out-of-work Uber driver. Maddie’s car has been repossessed and she’s on the verge of losing her family home in lovely Montauk, Long Island, where she’s been a lifelong resident. Desperate for cash and a car, Maddie answers an intriguing Craigslist job listing put up by a wealthy couple (Matthew Broderick and Laura Benanti) who are looking for someone to “date” their introverted and gawky 19-year-old son Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman) and give him a summer injection of life experience before he leaves for his freshman year at Princeton in the fall. (“Date him hard!,” Percy’s father insists.)
Though the premise is a bit tough to swallow (would a woman with Lawrence’s natural confidence, pride, intelligence and beauty go to such extremes for a car?), I went along with No Hard Feelings as an “anything goes” romantic comedy, a genre that can always use some room to breathe. What’s funniest is that it’s those very qualities that Lawrence exudes—the ones I don’t buy in her character—that make her so eminently watchable on the screen.
Newcomer Andrew Barth Feldman is adequate in his role as a weirdly un-horny male teenager who initially doesn’t appear to be at all interested in losing his virginity or even getting playful with his potential erotic tutor. His chemistry with Lawrence comes in waves and is at its most potent when the two get involved in a series of outrageous scenarios, including a nutty one involving a naked late-night ocean swim.
Co-stars Benanti and Broderick are on target as Montauk summer homeowners whose helicopter parenting of their son has turned him into a loner who’s as prepared for the Princeton social scene as a bashful Bar Mitzvah boy. And Scott MacArthur and the always fun Natalie Morales add not-too-serious voices of reason to the proceedings as Maddie’s married friends.
There’s a nice energy at work in No Hard Feelings that helps to fill in the slower patches of the plot, which remains hit-or-miss when it comes to its situations and jokes. But it’s still a comedy and there isn’t any damage done as it winds down to an inevitable conclusion that finds two off-center people helping each other to grow.
The audience is the big winner here as it gets a new movie from Jennifer Lawrence, who’s still one of the world’s most popular and likeable actresses. She hasn’t entirely been missing in action but she’s been on a bit of a hiatus over the last several years.
Lawrence and her husband Cooke Maroney had a baby in February 2022 and she wasn’t planning on working in the immediate future. But then the script for No Hard Feelings landed on her desk and the whole new motherhood thing took a backseat, though the idea of starring in a hard-R comedy, her first, wasn’t part of her plan. But Lawrence liked what she read and committed to the film that spring, also signing on as a co-producer. Principal photography began in September 2022.
“Doing a loud comedy is out of my comfort zone, but I wasn’t uncomfortable. I had such a good time,” Lawrence told the British culture site TheUpcoming.com at the movie’s London premiere on June 12. “The script was just the funniest thing I ever read, so I just couldn’t wait to make it.”
No Hard Feelings is the first wide release that Lawrence has appeared in since 2019’s poorly received Dark Phoenix, an entry in Marvel Entertainment’s X-Men franchise. Since then, she’s also popped up in the A-list ensemble of the end-of-the-world feature Don’t Look Up (2022) and the small PTSD drama Causeway (2022), in which she portrayed a scarred soldier trying to adjust to civilian life after serving in Afghanistan. Distributed by Netflix and Apple TV, respectively, both films saw only limited theatrical releases before their streaming platform debuts.
Of course, Lawrence has displayed her formidable comedy chops in her three collaborations with David O. Russell. The first two, Silver Linings Playbook (2012) and American Hustle (2013), were both critical and commercial office successes, with Lawrence winning a Best Actress Oscar for the former and earning a Best Supporting Actress nomination for the latter. The third, 2015’s underrated Joy, didn’t really click with audiences or the box office, but two out of three ain’t bad, right?
Lawrence’s trio of films with Russell all featured strong casts delivering the filmmaker’s deeply nuanced scripts, which played more as comedy-dramas than out-and-out laugh fests. And while Lawrence certainly garnered the most momentum and praise of those involved, they’re still identified as ensemble pieces and not as single star vehicles. But that was then, and this is now, and though she has a lot of help in No Hard Feelings—just as she did in 2012’s very successful The Hunger Games and its sequels—it’s only Lawrence’s name above the title this time around.
And if this past weekend is any indication, that’s exactly where audiences want Jennifer Lawrence to be.
Laurence Lerman is a film journalist, former editor of Video Business--Variety's DVD trade publication--and husband to The Insider's own Gwen Cooper. Over the course of his career he has conducted one-on-one interviews with just about every major director working today, including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, Kathryn Bigelow, Ridley Scott, Walter Hill, Spike Lee, and Werner Herzog, among numerous others. Once James Cameron specifically requested an interview with Laurence by name, which his wife still likes to brag about. Most recently, he is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the online review site DiscDish.com.