No Hard Feelings proves once again that Jennifer Lawrence is a star
The opening sequence in No Hard Feelings features a tow-truck repossessing Maddie Barker’s (Jennifer Lawrence) car. The camera is positioned to at least try to centre the truck’s yellow hook, which struggles to remain in the middle of the frame. It’s perhaps the first and last time the movie attempts something visually audacious, though it ultimately fails. The cinematography is flat and unremarkable, and the editing is occasionally discontinuous. The script has its inspiring moments but is rarely especially funny or clever. And yet, somehow, No Hard Feelings works. It’s charming and entertaining; it’s a genuinely enjoyable time — all thanks to the cast. No Hard Feelings believes in its actors. Even if it’s rarely laugh-out-loud funny, the comedy is always rooted in character motivations and has an aura of authenticity.
Jennifer Lawrence, who has been on hiatus from acting, stars as Maddie — a Montauk “local” struggling to pay her rising property taxes and keep her mom’s home. She decides to answer a crazy Craigslist ad that offers a new car to a young woman willing to “date” the college-bound son of wealthy helicopter parents. Though she’s a bit older than expected, both parties tentatively come to an agreement. If Maddie can have sex with their son and bring him out of his shell, the car is hers.
For years, Maddie could comfortably afford her family home, a bribe from a father she never met, until wealthy elites moved into the neighbourhood, making property valuations skyrocket. Her taxes increased, and she can no longer make ends meet on her bartending and Uber driving. She owns her home but can no longer afford it. Her class resentment bubbles over many times throughout the film. Maddie doesn’t envy or desire the lifestyle of the yacht club regulars; she just wants to keep her childhood home.
The main source of comedy is intergenerational. Maddie tries to pass as Gen Z, but realizing that her values are disconnected from the upbeat open-minded (though often performative) poptism she reverts quickly to her rougher millennial edges. Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman), the object of her would-be affection, is a self-isolated but ultimately sweet 19-year-old unprepared for the world. Feldman’s performance captures a soft awkwardness of young adulthood grounded in the anxiety of not knowing your place in the world. Jennifer Lawrence is a lightning rod of charisma, and he does more than just hold his ground against her star power; he matches it.
No Hard Feelings
There’s a similar imbalance between the millennial and Gen Z mindset and Gen X one represented by Percy’s overbearing parents. The film certainly plays into clichés that Zoomers are an overtly coddled generation that are a combination of half-truths that nonetheless becomes an effective shorthand for explaining some of the alienation exasperated by videos games and social media (mainly things that keep them anchored to their phones and rooms). Yet, despite that, the film has quite a generous view of that impact as it showcases a generation that is open-minded and empathetic (mostly), if somewhat socially helpless.
Yet, the film does less of a good job of interrogating some of the hypocrisies inherent to this performance. Percy was relentlessly bullied by a terrible rumour that started at a sleepover. It’s one of the reasons he prefers to stay in his room. Yet, the film fails to connect between vlogger bros preaching against bullying on their live streams and the obvious ways in which cruelty and alienation still proliferate despite everyone saying the right thing.
If No Hard Feelings works, though, it’s largely because of the chemistry between Lawrence and Feldman. They make the dialogue fly, and both have a surprising talent for physical comedy, particularly within a skinny-dipping sequence that involves a fairly incredible naked fight scene. There’s a tenderness between them that subverts any of the ickiness of the plot as both characters find in their blooming friendship lessons to be learned and values to be re-evaluated.
No Hard Feelings is not a mid-budget masterpiece. The big screen market usually relegates these types of films to streaming services, where they die a forgettable death. Banking on the star power of Lawrence, though, this film feels like a good argument for bringing these movies to the big screen. ■
No Hard Feelings (directed by Gene Stupnitsky)
No Hard Feelings opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, June 23.
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