The Big Picture
- No Hard Feelings attempts to comment on class disparity and economic woes, but ultimately falls short in its approach to class commentary.
- The movie initially presents a strong indictment of the rich and highlights the struggle of working-class people, but this theme becomes less prominent as the story progresses.
- The film’s third act dilutes the class commentary by drawing an equivalence between the struggles of the working-class protagonist and the privilege of the wealthy characters, and solves the protagonist’s financial woes too easily.
Comedy movies can often be a great way to secure some hysterical escapism for a couple of hours, but just like any other medium of cinematic expression, these features can also be an effective method to comment on the wider world moviegoers inhabit. Take Charlie Chaplin‘s masterpiece The Great Dictator, for instance, which skewered Adolf Hitler and offered up a plea for fighting against fascism all while making viewers cackle. Meanwhile, the spoof film Blazing Saddles, a Western that’s also a great comedy, delivered a stinging rebuke of racism while putting a clown nose on the most popular genre of the day. Turns out comedies can offer up flatulence and horses getting punched, but also food for thought on the problems of the human race.
Jennifer Lawrence‘s R-rated comedy No Hard Feelings attempts to continue this tradition by making the plight of Maddie Barker (Lawrence) one intersected with modern economic woes and class disparity. Of course, this is still a feature involving jokes about Jennifer Lawrence beating up people while naked, so it’s clearly not meant to be a class-conscious masterwork in the vein of Ramin Bahrani or Ken Loach films. Still, at times, writer/director Gene Stupnitsky (who penned the script with John Phillips) conjures up some solid gags emphasizing the disparity of experiences between working-class folks and intrusive rich people. Ultimately, though, No Hard Feelings can’t help but come across as somewhat toothless in its approach to class commentary.
No Hard Feelings
On the brink of losing her home, Maddie finds an intriguing job listing: helicopter parents looking for someone to bring their introverted 19-year-old son out of his shell before college. She has one summer to make him a man or die trying.
- Release Date
- June 23, 2023
- Gene Stupnitsky
- Jennifer Lawrence, Laura Benanti, Natalie Morales, Ebon Moss-Bachrach
- 103 minutes
- Main Genre
‘No Hard Feelings’ Addresses Problems With Class
As No Hard Feeling begins, we meet Maddie Barker struggling to make ends meet even before her car gets impounded (a huge hurdle for a lady who makes part of her income from driving for Uber). As Barker makes her way to her bartending job, the viewer sees that her longtime home of Montauk, New York has now been swarmed by uber-wealthy tourists for the summer while even richer people have taken up permanent residence in lavish mansions. These people see the beaches of Montauk as perfect for a selfie or a postcard. They’ve got the means to avoid all the economic pitfalls and daily struggles Maddie is being consumed by.
Initially, this animosity towards the wealthy people that are turning Montauk into a nightmare is shockingly present in No Hard Feelings. It even informs Maddie Barker’s decision to answer a Craigslist ad from some rich parents asking somebody to “date” their teenage son Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman). In return, these parents will offer up a brand-new car, an item Maddie needs. Though she feels odd about the whole ordeal, Maddie’s friend Gabe Sawyer (Zahn McClarnon) convinces her to take on the task by remarking “these people have taken so much from us, why not take something from them?” The very concept of Maddie doing this unusual gig to secure some economic stability is rooted in “getting back” at the bourgeoisie.
The initial meeting scene with rich parents Laird (Matthew Broderick) and Allison Becker (Laura Benanti) is also rooted in sly contempt for the aloofness of the wealthy, namely in their obliviousness to Maddie struggling to get up their stairs while wearing roller skates. In these introductory sequences, the Becker parents are established as an antagonistic presence, oblivious to their insensitive word choices and the fact that they see working-class folks like Maddie as just tools to accomplish their goals. Plus, the intensely withdrawn nature of their son Percy appears to be the inevitable result of rich people trying to control everything that falls under their purview. With the class dynamics of this story firmly set, the stage is set for further examples of commentary on wealth inequality and for No Hard Feelings to ramp up its contempt for and skewering of the uber-wealthy.
‘No Hard Feelings’ Begins To Stumble
As No Hard Feelings continues its story, contempt for the rich and commentary on class inequality become noticeably less prominent in the story. The focus, very understandably, shifts onto gags emphasizing the drastically different personalities of Percy and Maddie. If the only problem here was that No Hard Feelings traded in class commentary for odd couple gags, there really wouldn’t be an issue. Unfortunately, the third act of No Hard Feelings ends up taking some odd routes when it comes to its approach to economic matters.
For one thing, a key moment in the inevitable “break up” between Percy and Maddie tries to draw an equivalence between Maddie being hindered by her inability to move on past her absent father and Percy having a rich dad that can bail him out of trouble whenever and wherever. The thematic intent behind this moment is clear, in how it gives our two leads some parallel traits and offers Percy a stinging critique he can deliver to Maddie that shatters their relationship. However, it also feels like a “both sides”-ism that dilutes the privilege that comes with the wealth of Percy’s father. Having emotional issues related to a missing dad is not 1:1 to being the son of somebody who can get you out of any predicament at the drop of a hat.
‘No Hard Feelings’ Plays It Too Safe
More problematic is how Maddie’s financial woes end up getting solved in the span of one montage, which is a tragedy since the emphasis on her difficulties getting cash or making house payments was one of the best aspects of No Hard Feelings. Mainstream Hollywood features are so often so afraid to go anywhere near class or economic-related woes, so No Hard Feelings embracing how much basic money turmoil molds Maddie’s decisions truly felt novel. Having all those difficulties get solved over the span of a few weeks undercuts the realistic flourishes that gave the gags in Jennifer Lawrence’s No Hard Feelings some bite.
Most disappointingly, the schmaltzy tendencies of the third act of No Hard Feelings fail to really take the Becker parents to task for their behavior. In the interest of making sure this home stretch of the story is digestible for mainstream audiences, Percy gives his parents a stern talking-to and then we only see them again once he’s got his bags all packed for his independent life. The earliest scenes of No Hard Feelings really lean into a contempt for the rich that echoes other mainstream films like Ready or Not or Society, which can’t help but set up expectations of that quality enduring for the entirety of the movie. Unfortunately, No Hard Feelings ends up taking a softer approach with its most noticeable rich characters and doesn’t even make their big emotional moments feel truly earned.
‘No Hard Feelings’ and Other Modern R-rated Comedies Share the Same Problem
Though comedies can be home to insightful social commentary, they also can be home to oddly paradoxical third acts and endings. This is especially true of modern R-rated comedies, which tend to cap off features dedicated to raunchy debauchery with abrupt worship of conventional societal norms. Movies that are all about lewd partying will inevitably conclude with a cis-het couple getting married and projects about rebellious societal outcasts will wrap up with those outsiders becoming a part of the system. This way, these raunchy titles can firmly stay inside the comfort zones of audiences while offering temporary temptations of more out-sized material.
No Hard Feelings suffers from this problem for sure. It initially presents an amusing indictment of how rich people and extreme class disparity make everyday life for working-class people a nightmare, but gives way to more familiar bursts of sentimentality that largely forget about the very real struggle. While this is disappointing, it doesn’t make No Hard Feelings a bad or unfunny movie, nor is this piece of cinema a “class traitor.” It’s just emblematic of how difficult it can be for modern R-rated comedies, or any kind of mainstream cinema made in the current media landscape, to live up to the gold standards of social commentary seen in classic comedies like The Great Dictator or Blazing Saddles.
No Hard Feelings is available to stream on Netflix in the U.S.
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