It is often pointed out that the term “slut” has no male equivalent; Terms like “gambler” and “womanizer” are a bit too celebratory. Oh well. Call it a “double standard” if it makes you feel better, but we as a species tend to be far more concerned about female promiscuity. For men, discretion and honor count.
A word indicating failure in this regard might sting a little. I say “cad,” which aptly expresses the sniveling unmanliness that is common in modern advertising.
Justin Timberlake is a villain, as we discover in Britney Spears’ book. upcoming memoir. It’s not like he deflowered Spears while telling the public that they were “waiting to get married.” Apparently, this schoolgirl outfit was always meant to tickle us with the suspicion that America’s teen queen was “not so innocent.” The thing is, Timberlake bragged about it, both to two moronic DJs on the road and to Barbara Walters. He also urged Spears to abort her baby (“To this day, it’s one of the most excruciating things I’ve ever experienced in my life,” Spears writes), subsequently dumped her via text message and later implied that she had cheated on him to boost his own Sad boy Picture of him walking alone.
Spears and her team, of course, market their book as a triumph (“I finally have the freedom to tell my story“), but the fight apparently continues. Her third marriage ended in August after just eight months, the kind of disaster that nasty little trolls like Perez Hilton milked for clicks during Britney’s early 2000s heyday. It is no longer fashionable to insult famous young women in this way, no matter how much they seem to “crave it.” What seemed like wild celebration at the time now looks more like a desperate search for love. The sadness remains.
It’s hard to find sympathy for the hottie. Not least because hot girls often refuse to admit their hotness; Both the men who have fallen under her spell and their female competitors find the whole “I’m that kind of thing idiot!” Routine a bit rich. The refreshing thing about Jennifer Lawrence’s latest film, the strangely wholesome sex comedy No Hard Feelings, is that it doesn’t try to pretend that her character lacks either looks or charisma.
Maddie Barker is a Montauk city dweller who makes a living as a waitress and Uber driver for obnoxious rich summer people, but she’s no diamond in the rough waiting to be discovered. Boys have always fallen at her feet. She skipped her high school prom, but not for lack of a date (“Everyone asked me. The teachers asked me!”) and seems to have left a trail of smitten ex-girlfriends all over town. She is Jennifer Lawrence without ambition or happiness.
Maddie seems happy enough where she is. She lives in the modest home she inherited from her mother (her father, a married member of the aforementioned summer class, wanted nothing to do with either of them), has a few close friends, and enjoys a robust, if superficial, romantic life. She is, as we say today, “in control of her sexuality.” So if she risks losing her house because of unpaid taxes, she’s not squeamish about taking advantage.
This is how the premise is revealed in “No Hard Feelings” “Red Band” trailerwhich seemed to threaten a return of the raunchy hard-R comedies of a few years ago: anxious, rich helicopter parents secretly pay Maddie to seduce their socially awkward, virginal son in preparation for his first year at Princeton.
The virgins in the 1980s comedies I grew up with were obsessed with “losing it.” The “American Pie” franchise has repackaged the same jokes for horny millennials. But Maddie’s prey Percy (played with sly charm by Andrew Barth Feldman) is a member of the notoriously low-libido Zoomer generation, so the joke here is how hard Maddie has to work to get him to go out.
Nobody has sex in this film. Lawrence actually shows full-frontal nudity during a bit of slapstick violence on the beach, but it suggests a subtle dig at the creeps who leaked their nudes from the cloud a while back, and is decidedly unerotic (Teenage Boys: Your Reach may vary).
Percy is appropriately naïve, vacillating between neurotic caution and a deluded confidence reminiscent of Jason Schwartzman in Rushmore, but he’s also smart and unspoiled. His aging parents’ generation), an approach that has developed into bored self-soothing in Maddie’s generation (“It was Christmas, I was lonely,” she shrugs when asked about a particularly miserable affair in the past) . Only Percy is inexperienced enough to understand emotions.
Percy’s passion for Maddie is deserved. In between her clumsy attempts to initiate sex with him, they met. But it also jeopardizes Maddie’s mission. Not only does Percy want to delay their first time, he’s also considering forgoing Princeton so they can build a future together. It won’t spoil anything by revealing that Maddie’s growing affection and respect for Percy begins to trouble her previously dormant conscience, or that his discovery of her deception significantly raises the emotional stakes for the third act.
“No Hard Feelings” may be formulaic, but it really nails the formula and fills it with really funny and well-observed characters and dialogue. And it’s a great example of Lawrence finding plenty of humor and heart in Maddie’s slow progression away from empty, jaded hedonism toward something riskier and far more meaningful.
JLaw fans already know that she has a knack for broad comedy. What struck me here was her silence in a scene in the middle of the film. As they attempt a romantic dinner at a fancy restaurant, Maddie convinces Percy to play something on the house piano and he surprises her with a rendition of the Hall and Oates classic “Man eater.” It’s a song they had heard before, leading Percy to remark that it gave him nightmares as a child, while inadvertently revealing that even at 18, he still had the literal understanding of a child for the text. The song is about a monster.
While “Maneater” is a good song, the portrait of a female predator is a bit silly and dated. You’d have to be very young to take it seriously or to believe that sex between two consenting adults could ever be that dangerous. But Percy’s version, like all good covers, helps us hear it fresh.
Maddie sits upright at her table, stock still, almost as if she’s afraid to move. The camera slowly moves in and stays on her face, and we watch as she watches Percy. He certainly understands what the song is about now, and the irony that he could be describing Maddie is not lost on us or her. We see guilt flicker across her face and the dawning realization that her ruse might not be so harmless after all.
But Percy’s interpretation strips the song of its feverish paranoia and replaces it with something more hopeful and thoughtless. He hasn’t yet realized that Maddie is cheating on him, but he seems to sense that she is cheating on herself, and as he sings, we watch her defensive cynicism about love and sex weaken, revealing the underlying sadness. Percy may be overwhelmed, but despite his inexperience, he knows one thing Maddie doesn’t: she’s worth waiting for.
Watching Percy awaken his would-be seducer to her deepest desires is far more exciting and intimate than most scenes that are considered “love scenes” these days.
Matt Himes is editor of Align.