Jennifer Lawrence saves the day in flawed but still charming ‘No Hard Feelings’

The R-rated, hit-and-miss romp has just enough wit and heart to carry the day over the utterly predictable plot and the occasional bit of physical comedy that misses the mark.

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Maddie (Jennifer Lawrence) and Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman) spend the day together in “No Hard Feelings.”

Maddie (Jennifer Lawrence) and Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman) spend the day together in “No Hard Feelings.”

Macall Polay/Columbia Pictures

If the coming-of-age, sexually charged comedy “No Hard Feelings” had been released during the heyday of this genre in the 1980s, we would have ranked it well below the likes of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “Risky Business,” “Sixteen Candles” and “Revenge of the Nerds,” but far above the endless parade of leering and crass efforts such as “Porky’s,” “The Last American Virgin,” “Goin’ all the Way,” “Private School,” “Blame it On Rio,” “Spring Break,” “Hardbodies,” “My Tutor,” “Losin’ It” and my goodness they made a lot of those types of movies back in the day, did they not?

‘No Hard Feelings’

No Hard Feelings

Columbia Pictures presents a film directed by Gene Stupnitsky and written by Stupnitsky and John Phillips. Rated R (for sexual content, language, some graphic nudity and brief drug use). Running time: 100 minutes. Now playing at local theaters.

These days, the R-rated, theatrically released comedy is such an unusual occurrence that there’s been an inordinate amount of publicity and build-up surrounding “No Hard Feelings,” in no small part because the lead is the A-list, Oscar-winning Jennifer Lawrence, who puts great effort (and mostly succeeds) in a role that requires total commitment to the comedy, whether it’s taking a punch to the throat, delivering double-entendre lines such as, “Mind if I touch your Wiener?” to a young man who is holding a dog, or engaging in a ferocious, MMA type brawl with three opponents while wearing not a stitch of clothing.

In the hands of director and Stevenson High School grad Gene Stupnitsky (“Good Boys”), who co-wrote the screenplay with John Phillips, this is a hit-and-miss romp with just enough wit and heart to carry the day over the utterly predictable plot and the occasional bit of physical comedy that misses the mark.

Lawrence’s Maddie Barker is an aimless, hedonistic, 32-year-old lifelong resident of Montauk, Long Island, where she barely tolerates the summer wave of wealthy vacationers while scraping out a living as a bartender and ride-share driver.

Laird (Matthew Broderick) and Allison (Laura Benanti) will do whatever it takes to control their son’s life in “No Hard Feelings.”

Laird (Matthew Broderick) and Allison (Laura Benanti) will do whatever it takes to control their son’s life in “No Hard Feelings.”

Macall Polay/Columbia Pictures

Men are disposable playthings to Maddie, and she has only two friends — the obligatory wisecracking couple who exist mainly to comment on Maddie’s life, played wonderfully by Natalie Morales and Scott MacArthur.

The only thing Maddie really cares about is her house — but she’s in danger of losing the place due to back taxes and the prospect of lost income after her car is towed. What a pickle! This seems like a good time for a manufactured and utterly ridiculous plot development, are you with me?

Just when things seem hopeless, Maddie spots a Craigslist ad from a wealthy couple looking for a young woman to, um, date their 19-year-old son, who is painfully shy, socially awkward and will be eaten alive at Princeton in the fall if he doesn’t gain some life experience. In exchange, they’ll gift the ad respondent with a Buick Regal. Hey, Maddie needs a car, and Maddie has no problem with casual sex. She’s IN.

A long-haired, casually smug Matthew Broderick plays the father, Laird (and I wish they would have just called him Ferris), while Laura Benanti is the mom, Allison. They’re a couple of well-meaning fools who have helicopter-parented the life force out of their son Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman), who of course must not learn that Maddie has been hired by his parents to date Percy, to “date him real hard,” as Maddie exuberantly puts it. Whereas most of these older woman-younger man stories (“The Graduate,” the aforementioned “Risky Business,” “Summer of ’42”) are told from the point of view of the guy, this is primarily Maddie’s story, Maddie’s journey.

The slapstick hijinks involving skinny-dipping and lap dances and booze-laced mishaps that often give way to earnest and at times genuinely touching interludes (e.g., when Percy finds the courage to play the piano and sing a heartfelt rendition of “Maneater” in a crowded restaurant, and Maddie’s eyes well up). Dammit, this is a good young man, a special young man. She wants that Buick Regal, but she doesn’t want to break his heart.

Much humor is mined from Maddie being so “old,” as she’s 32 and interacting with a 19-year-old and eventually some of his peers, who look at her as if she is their grandmother crashing the party. Lawrence proves to be a gamer, whether she’s delivering sharp one-liners or delving into physical schtick, but she doesn’t have the natural comedic chops and unabashed fearlessness of an Amy Schumer or an Ali Wong or a Maya Rudolph or an Awkwafina or an Aubrey Plaza or a Kristen Wiig.

Still, Lawrence and Andrew Barth Feldman have a solid chemistry together, more so in the quieter scenes than in the madcap adventures, which tend to become repetitive.

Even with the racy and deliberately uncomfortable premise and with more than enough material to easily merit the R rating, “No Hard Feelings” winds up playing things relatively safe. Turns out there’s such a thing as comfort-viewing raunch.

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