“No Hard Feelings” is the kind of hard-to-characterize movie that isn’t served by a splashy ad campaign, in mostly good ways. Part French sex comedy, part “American Pie”-like coming-of-age story, this raunchy vehicle for Jennifer Lawrence also possesses darker and deeper streaks that elevate it above its “Pretty. Awkward.” posters.
Lawrence’s Maddie is pretty, but she’s also desperate, at risk of losing her house and with her car getting repossessed, particularly bad news for a part-time Uber driver. She blames her dire financial straits on the influence of wealthy summer residents to the seaside town of Montauk, where she lives, making it extra difficult on her struggling cohort to get by.
Enter a wealthy couple (Matthew Broderick, Laura Benanti) who place an ad for someone to date (that would be the polite way of putting it) their 19-year-old son, Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman, in a strong step up for the “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” co-star), and “bring him out of his shell” before he enrolls at Princeton.
Maddie is a little older than what they envisioned as a potential seductress (turning Lawrence’s age into a running gag turns out to be pretty inspired), but she convinces them that women Percy’s age are idiots, and besides, she really, really needs the car they’re offering.
Directed and co-written by Gene Stupnitsky (sharing script credit with fellow “The Office” alum John Phillips), what ensues could easily have become a bawdy R-rated comedy with lots of over-the-top situations, and there’s some of that. Yet “No Hard Feelings” (a generic title that also indicates the studio didn’t really quite get what they had here) also has a poignant side in exploring the odd friendship that develops between these two characters, each damaged in different ways.
In Percy’s case, the issue involves having shrunken into himself and an online world, and “helicopter parents” that want him to grow up while simultaneously making it harder for him to actually do that. It’s a form of emotional paralysis reminiscent of “The Graduate,” though to be clear, not nearly that good.
For Maddie, life consists of one-night stands and feeling less-than due to the class distinction of growing up with her nose pressed up against the glass watching the privileged folk on the other side.
Feldman’s youthful appearance makes him seem even more vulnerable and the mercenary aspects of Maddie’s task feel dicier. To her credit, Lawrence (who doubles as a producer) lustily dives into that aspect, including a nighttime skinny-dipping scene – as she tries to coax the reluctant, rule-following lad into the water – that underscores how the movie manages to simultaneously be broadly funny, clever (Percy cites the parallels to “Jaws”) and indicative of the hostility that she carries around with her.
The sequence encapsulates how the film aims higher than one might expect, in a way that, given the current theatrical climate, makes “No Hard Feelings” no easy sell for a studio marketing department. But credit Lawrence with finding a worthwhile character in a movie that offers unexpected rewards for those who’ll see it, whether that’s in theaters or, more likely, after it wades into the more hospitable waters of pay TV and streaming.
“No Hard Feelings” premieres June 23 in US theaters. It’s rated R.