The premise that motors “No Hard Feelings,” a new comedy directed by Gene Stupnitsky, is, if not outright indecent, at least a little crass. Via online advertisement, Laird and Allison, megawealthy Montauk residents, are seeking an attractive woman in her early 20s to deflower their socially awkward Princeton-bound son, Percy. In return for this service they’ll bestow a not-quite brand-new car on the kinda-sorta prostitute.
Taking up the offer is Jennifer Lawrence’s Maddie, a lifelong Montauker who’s increasingly resentful of the rich folk taking over her town. She’s 32 and a little too old for the gig, but she’s a knockout — as mentioned, she’s played by Lawrence — and has a canny sales pitch.
Capricious and promiscuous as she is, Maddie isn’t a pro escort, but a bartender and ride-hail driver whose car has been repossessed — and if she can’t pick people up, she can’t earn enough to pay the tax lien on the house she inherited from her mother. Assigned to “date date” the puppy-cute but initially highly recessive 19-year-old Percy, she goes after her prey with an aggressiveness that’s initially off-putting to the lad. (He maces her at one point.)
The movie’s trailer has elicited howls of outrage in some sex-unfriendly social media circles. But the movie itself handles the hook in a way that aspires to raise eyebrows, not inspire a Congressional hearing. Once Maddie is obliged to actually hang out with Percy, she starts to like him. And just as she acts on her instructions to “get him out of his shell,” he persuades her to consider why she’ll be dead-ending it in Montauk for the foreseeable future. If you don’t see this coming, you don’t know Hollywood.
The movie doesn’t split the difference between raunchy sex farce and dual personal growth study so much as complacently fall between rom-com subgenres. It amiably alternates commonplace depictions of introspective intimacy with ostensibly bar-raising, outré set pieces. As when, upon being interrupted while skinny-dipping with Percy, Maddie rushes out of the ocean to deliver a buck-naked beat down to some townies trying to steal their clothes.
One might argue that the movie doesn’t really need that sort of thing, given the confidence and appeal of its lead performers. But again, Hollywood. In any event, Lawrence is a consistently incandescent screen presence, and her role lets her run through her greatest performative hits, so to speak. She’s goofily sexy, poignantly wide-eyed and retains a beaming, you-can-deny-her-nothing smile. As Percy, Andrew Barth Feldman frames the character’s awkwardness in a quiet register for the most part, but in more expansive nerd moments recalls a young Martin Short. Matthew Broderick and Laura Benanti are present and correct as the peculiar parents. But Natalie Morales, Scott MacArthur and Zahn McClarnon as Maddie’s townie pals, who provide sardonic working class solidarity for our heroine, have some of the picture’s choicest bits.