Wednesday, July 24, 2024

We’ve seen it all from Jennifer Lawrence: gritty, hard-bitten drama (“Winter’s Bone”), culturally critical satire (“Don’t Look Up,” “American Hustle”), spy thriller (“Red Sparrow”), a YA franchise (“The Hunger Games”), even a foray into the superhero ’verse (the “X-Men” series reboot), but a rom-com or straight-up comedy? “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012) kinda fit that bill (though it’s a dark one, as it deals with loss and mental illness) and Lawrence would win an Oscar for her part as a grieving widow looking for release and a way to move on. But in “No Hard Feelings,”  Gene Stupnitsky’s not-quite-a-rom-com, Lawrence gets to open up and be free in a way she’s never done – think Cameron Diaz in “Bad Teacher” (2011) or Charlize Theron in “Long Shot” (2019). The thing that will be made the most of is Lawrence’s birthday suit scene. It is an eye popper, but not in the (racy, smutty) way you may think – it’s a punctuation mark in triplicate in a film that otherwise charms on its comedic merits and moments of humanity.

Lawrence’s Maddie lives in swank Montauk, Long Island, but is not one of the living-large summer weekenders looking to escape the dog days of Manhattan; she’s a townie living in the modest one-story bungalow in which she grew up. Mom died not so long ago, and the house is about to be taken away for back taxes. Maddie gets by gig-economy style bartending at the marina to those wealthy sorts and by giving Uber rides – that is, until her car is repossessed. No car, no house, no cash, what’s a youngish single woman to do?

Plan B comes in the form of a Craigslist ad posted by a wealthy couple (a dutiful Laura Benanti and Matthew Broderick, rocking a Rasputin ’do) who want a 20-ish woman to help instill confidence in their Princeton-bound son, Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman, on leave from Harvard for the filming). What that translates into: Make our son a man (take his virginity) and we’ll give you a Buick and enough cash to handle the back taxes. Percy is unaware of the plot, and the task for Maddie – who is in her early 30s and barely passes the mom-and-dad interview – becomes more complicated than expected.

Maddie’s a hot mess, and endearingly self-deprecating. She’s also vulnerable, up against it and has can-do resolve. There’s a whole backstory about her dad and plenty of attempts to get Percy to Buick land. Stupnitsky, a veteran of “The Office” TV series pulling double duty as writer, does a nice job with the comedic timing and plot changeups. Lawrence, believe it or not, is adroit as a physical comedian, be it her Maddie trying to rob her car back from a tow truck, or that buck-naked throwdown on a beach that involves crotch shots (both punches and sightings of) and sleeper holds. Maddie and Feldman’s geeky, sensitive Percy also score some truly tender moments. It’s evocative of “Risky Business” (1982) and “Booksmart” (2019) without being derivative. It’s also refreshing to see Lawrence take a chance, and Stupnitsky does a nice job of playing with the have-and-have-not dynamic the way “One Crazy Summer” (1986) and “Caddyshack” (1980) did, but more affectingly and subtly.

Cambridge writer Tom Meek’s reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.