No Hard Feelings

MA 15+, 103 minutes

3 Stars

Review by © Jane Freebury

When an old pop song is performed solo in this battle of the sexes for millennials, it is like whoa, where did that come from? A catchy Daryl Hall and John Oates hit from the 1980s gets a sudden and unexpected airing when a young man sits down at a piano in a Long Island restaurant and everyone stops to listen. Awkward, shy Percy, an accomplished performer? Who would have thought so?

It’s actually a lovely moment. After a string of mishaps and misunderstanding, and plenty of laughs at the couple’s expense, Maddie (Jennifer Lawrence) and Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman) are out on their first real date.  She is slinky in her best glitter, they have given each other a corsage, and they are being chauffeured to their destination in a stretch limo.

Watch out boys, she’ll chew you up…She’s a man-eater

Percy’s sweet but anxious, over-protective parents had engineered an introduction, and it looked like 30-something Maddie had it all over him. Then the diffident 19-year-old showed what he was really made of at the piano. The moment turns the tables. Percy plays and sings really well, even if Maddie isn’t exactly flattered by his choice of song. ‘Oh, oh here she comes. Watch out boys, she’ll chew you up…She’s a man-eater.’

No Hard Feelings is the classic odd couple relationship, the screwball comedy where opposites attract, except that this bloke prefers taking his time and getting to know a girl before he sleeps with her. At least that’s what he says. Hence the candle-lit dinner with trappings.

Maddie lives in a bungalow inherited from her mother. As wealthy folk buy up more properties in her neighbourhood, her home has become a luxury with soaring rates that she can no longer afford on her bar job. Percy lives on the island too, with his wealthy mum and dad (Laura Benanti and Matthew Broderick), but he rarely leaves his room and has most of his interactions over the internet. And he is destined for Princeton.

Allison and Laird place an advertisement on Craigslist, offering the use of their Buick to a young woman who can draw their son out of his shell before he goes to university with the Ivy Leaguers. Maddie, whose car has been repossessed, lands the job.

In a barely-there pink number, she shows up at the dog rescue shelter where Percy volunteers, and practically kidnaps him. He somehow scrambles free. There are more misadventures, then Maddie gets him to strip off for a night swim. When some pranksters steal their gear and run down the beach, Maddie bounds out of the sea after them, stark naked, laying into them like an Amazonian avenger. It was like something out of Hunger Games, where Lawrence was such a formidable action hero. The violent streak in Maddie’s character is not for the faint of heart.

A near-death experience dashing through a level-crossing seems to start the bonding process

Maddie must persevere if she wants to earn her fee, giving the pair some time to get to know each other. Curiously, a near-death experience dashing through a level-crossing with Percy spread-eagled naked on the bonnet seems to start the bonding process.

No Hard Feelings in essence is not so very different from Silver Linings Playbook, the brilliant comedy for which Lawrence earned an Oscar opposite Bradley Cooper. That movie also had elements of screwball, touching on assertive young women and less certain, maybe even reclusive young men.

Besides the underlying gender questions, there are other hot-button issues like property ownership and the wealth disparities between classes and generations. This is brought into sharp relief as Maddie and Percy move between the privileged and the uber rich yachting crowd on vacation in the Hamptons, the students headed for Princeton, and the folk that make up the service classes who wait on tables, mix drinks, and fix their cars.

Apparently, the idea for the screenplay came to director Gene Stupnitsky and his co-writer John Phillips, both with credits on The Office, when they heard about an advert on Craigslist, just like the one here. Does that make this movie any more plausible? Not really. It’s the terrific lead performances that make it work.

We might have expected a major star like Lawrence to run away with the film, but Feldman takes it to her. It is a no-holds-barred performance from her but that scene at the piano, now that was something.

First published in the Canberra Times on 24 June 2023. Jane’s reviews are also published by Rotten Tomatoes