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 No Hard Feelings is the kind of film Hollywood forgot how to make when it started to take the mid-year silly season a bit too seriously. Occasionally, someone in a big studio remembers R-rated raunchy comedies, where everyone curses and women behave differently to the industry archetype, are a recipe for success. They are relatively cheap to produce and easy to please – writing jokes for a horde of stoned and horny teenagers on school holidays is not exactly rocket science, but there is a craft to it. 

Given how financially sound the formula is, it is surprising we don’t see more of these. Even Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen moved on. Todd Phillips, who went from Old School to Joker, fashions himself the incel Scorsese. And Adam Mckay (from Anchorman fame) is now trying to save the world from unregulated capitalism one satire at a time. Where are the American Pies, and There is Something About Marys of our times? Where is that great American tradition of the inane but adorably stupid raunchy comedy? No one can make a joke about bodily fluids in the middle of an emotional beat like the Americans; why lose it?

No Hard Feelings is trying to be part of that tradition. Maddie (Jennifer Lawrence) is an Uber driver/waitress from Montauk facing the possibility of losing her family home unless she can afford to pay a new land tax that is driving locals away to be replaced by wealthy families. Without a car to continue her day job, she finds a unique opportunity: a family nearby (Matthew Broderick plays the father) wants her to help their teenage son Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman) to get out of his shell before he goes to college in Princeton. For “get him out of the shell”, read “date”, with the quotes doing a lot of the leg work here. In exchange, they will gift Maddie with the family’s Buick.

And that is it – dramatic problem, inciting incident, resolution. Scriptwriting by the numbers with the promise of light raunchiness. The stuff that made Hollywood since Revenge of the Nerds earned 40 million dollars at the box office from an 8 million dollar budget.

And there is nothing wrong with the genre. I grew up with it; my sensibility is tuned to appreciate the subtlety of crass humour. Give me a lady who burps and 20 fart jokes. Give me a set piece so outrageously stupid it had to be imagined by a 12-year-old boy off his Adderall. I get it; it is a good balance. It is no Doris Day and Tony Curtis because not everything has to be that. Remember that scene in There’s Something About Mary that goes for almost four minutes around a “zipping accident”? There is a time and place for that.

No Hard Feelings wants to be that so badly, but often misses the beat. The story is easy to understand. Watch the first 10 minutes, and you will know what happens. And again, that’s fine; that comforting familiarity made the genre so successful in the industry. But director Gene Stupnitsky (who also co-wrote the film with John Phillips) does not know what he wants his movie to be. It is never emotionally enough to earn its stars at the end, which means that you are largely indifferent to the plight of both Maddie and Percy. The raunchiness is pretty tame, like this is the first R-rated PG film, with the exception of a scene where a naked Maddy fights three teens on the beach. That scene is obviously set up like the shock-comedy centrepiece of the film (like the pie scene in American Pie).

Still, most of the humour falls flat apart from the ridiculousness of the situation. It’s pretty distracting that it is so obviously Lawrence’s head on a naked body double.

Lawrence is the best the film has to offer. She gives herself the role of someone who has always wanted to be in this kind of film and is surprisingly good at it. Her line deliveries have the charming spirit of a 90s teen comedy, exactly where this film should be. Some of the physical gags are tremendous – like when Lawrence has to make her way up a ramp on rollerblades. So simple, so practical, so funny.

Unfortunately, the film does not keep up with what Lawrence is doing. There are only a few memorable set-ups, and most of the gags fail to stick their landing. I don’t know why. Stupnitsky, who previously directed the solid Bad Moms knows the genre pretty well. This should have been a home run.

There is also the problem with the film’s not-so-subtle anti-gentrification and anti-privilege message. One that I can back 100 per cent, but the film goes through this without finding a solution for the issue (everything is fine if your homeowner friends gift you a house) and do it with an almost complete absence of other races – there is one minor part for an African-American actress (Alyssia Joy Powell) and one Pakistani-American, played by Hasan Minhaj. 

No Hard Feelings is not a horrible film, but it is useless. It never lives up to the expectation of its dumb title. And I wish it did. I was ready to be shocked. Near the end of the second act, Percy references a story he had told earlier in the film, and I found myself struggling to understand what that was. No Hard Feelings is so forgettable, I forgot about it as I was watching.

Verdict: 2 out of 5
For those so nostalgic for naughty studio comedies, they will take anything.