LOS ANGELES -- It’s a beloved rom-com trope: an irresponsible, irreverent and seemingly irredeemable man falls in love with a woman, setting him on the path to finally get his act together.
But in “No Hard Feelings,” which hits theaters Friday, director Gene Stupnitsky sought to subvert those gendered expectations, with Jennifer Lawrence instead playing his dirtbag protagonist.
“We always described her as someone who cuts corners, who is lazy, doesn’t have great nutrition, likes to smoke pot and drink and doesn’t take anything too seriously,” he said of the character he and co-writer, John Phillips, created. “A guy doing it, that is well-trodden territory. It’s not very interesting.”
“No Hard Feelings” follows Lawrence's Maddie as she conspires with the parents of an awkward 19-year-old (Andrew Barth Feldman) to have sex with him before he leaves for college in exchange for a car. He's left in the dark about the scheme, leaving Maddie to try to seduce the shy brainiac more than a decade her junior.
Lawrence said the “messy and chaotic” character’s appeal were one of the things that drew her to the film. “She was just so determined and there was no way to really stop her from achieving what she was going to achieve.”
The film is based on an actual Craigslist post the producers stumbled upon years ago. In the film a similar message becomes the catalyst for Maddie — desperate to continue working as a Uber driver as a last-ditch effort to keep the house her late mother left her — to respond.
Stupnitsky said the post, in addition to being very funny, was ripe for exploring a host of timely topics.
“Helicopter parents are a real thing. And I think sex workers were in the news a lot. And just all these ideas were coming together, you know, class differences, all of it,” Stupnitsky, an Emmy-nominated writer on “The Office” who directed 2019’s “Good Boys” and co-wrote the R-rated Cameron Diaz comedy “Bad Teacher,” said. “It’s more just asking questions and bringing up these different ideas. I don’t even know how I feel about everything, but I think my favorite comedies usually go someplace deeper.”
Although not quite a romcom, the film employs many of the genre’s cliches, including raunchy humor, awkward date scenarios and even some nudity, although not in the way audiences might expect.
“I didn’t have any reservations,” Lawrence said laughing when asked about her feelings toward nude scenes, something she was candidly reluctant about when her role in the 2018 thriller, “Red Sparrow” required it. “Once you do it, then that’s done.”
Flurries of surprise and anticipation for the Oscar winner’s raunchy comedy debut abounded after the first “No Hard Feelings” trailer dropped, betraying a subtle assumption that perhaps this kind of movie would be beneath her.
“I don’t know,” she said of why people might not expect her to do a comedy. “You go about it the same way. It wouldn’t be funny if you were like, ‘I’m gonna make a joke now.’ You have to really believe what you’re saying, so the process is the same.”
Lawrence has long wanted to do a comedy and has received no shortage of scripts, but said she found none of them funny enough — that is until Stupnitsky handed her this one.
“I’ve known her socially over the years and I know how funny she is, and I know how much she loves comedy,” Stupnitsky said. “She’s done satire and comedy dramas, but a pure, straight up R-rated comedy, I just selfishly wanted her for myself.”