No Hard Feelings is just about sweet enough
I grew up with the Farrelly brothers making film after film that kids in my school would aggressively quote at one another. Dumb and Dumber was the obvious big one, but There’s Something About Mary and Shallow Hal were also insanely popular with kids in my class - something that doesn’t seem to have been a huge trend anywhere else for some reason. I found the films amusing enough at 13 years old that I’d join in from time to time, but I clearly didn’t like them that much because the next time I revisited them was as a 31-year-old seeing a poster in passing on Disney+.
Oh boy, Shallow Hal did not age well, did it? What was harmless, throwaway humour in school suddenly became embarrassing to watch for how nasty it actually is. How did something so mean ever come across so innocently?
The premise of No Hard Feelings felt like it could have drawn humour from a similarly mean-spirited place. Maddie (Jennifer Lawrence) is a 32-year-old Uber driver who’s never left her newly-gentrified hometown. She can’t keep up with her debts or taxes, so her car gets repossessed. Through one contrivance or another, she accepts a job of sorts where she’s asked, essentially, to have sex with a rich couple’s son to bring him out of his shell a bit, just in time for him to move to University. The payment is a car, conveniently.
It’s a bit ropey from a purely mechanical point of view. Everything happens because it needs to happen rather than because it’s compelling or makes sense to, but that isn’t really the point of this one.
It only exists so we can have a quick laugh at an absurd situation, and it’s an achievement that it manages to do that without ever poking fun at either of the two characters in the middle of it all. Maddie is a loser, but she’s never presented as someone that we should feel superior to. Percy (Andrew Barth Fieldman) is an awkward kid with a catalogue of potential neurodivergent conditions, but he’s treated with a lot of respect that a lesser film would have foregone for easy (dubious) laughs.
But with the absurd situation comes a heart of gold. It’s so respectful of its characters that it just can’t help but be a film that makes us smile as well as laugh. It doesn’t push any boundaries or challenge any preconceptions, it’s just a really nice time because it’s a really nice film.