No Hard Feelings

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Jennifer Lawrence’s new comedy vehicle about an Uber Driver turned sex worker to save her mother’s house, No Hard Feelings (2023), has been the subject of some controversy since it was released a few weeks ago. It should come as no surprise that the controversy stems from the specific kind of sex work featured in the movie. The “job” in question is dating an awkward nineteen year old named Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman). Lawrence’s character is thirty and while this may be a taboo it is designed for comedy.

Filmmaker Gene Stupnitsky goes to great lengths not to offend anyone, though it is immediately apparent that this is a film geared towards millennials. No Hard Feelings skirts inappropriate content consistently but with a sheen of camp acting as a buffer. No Hard Feelings gestures towards the raunchy R-rated comedies of Judd Apatow but always veers away in favor of sentimentality much like Pretty Woman (1990). Lawrence proves herself an able comedian and even delivers in the most badass fight scene we’re likely to see this summer. But all of the acting in the world, all of the risks, can’t compensate for the fact that No Hard Feelings is not as risqué or subversive as it should have been.

The fact that No Hard Feelings is decidedly inoffensive and non-risky was, for me, a bit of a surprise given the hype around the controversy (likely this was done as part of a strategy to sell more tickets). For me the real controversy is that so many viewers were scandalized by the age difference and not by Percy’s use of his immense privilege. Percy’s family is loaded and he comes equipped with all of the usual entitlement that suggests. In rage he wrecks the car promised to Lawrence’s character as payment and then never apologizes or compensates her. She did the job she was hired to do and yet Percy and his family fail to make good on the arrangement.

Essentially No Hard Feelings reenforces America’s anti-sex work position. Sex work in No Hard Feelings is seen and treated as the last resort of the poor and the desperate who are unworthy of proper remuneration. The fact that the filmmakers worried about offending middle class sensibilities regarding sex and did not consider the political perspectives of actual sex workers at all is as telling as it is problematic. It’s fine to make jokes about sex work to an extent, but to imply that it is immoral or illegitimate is offensive.

What’s worse is that Lawrence’s character apologizes to Percy, assumes a healthier mentor role, and never asks for nor expects an apology from him. The film ends happily in true summer blockbuster style fully aware that as the credits roll these characters and their world cease to exist. No Hard Feelings is not what it could or should have been.