Opinion

No Hard Feelings, Jennifer Lawrence, but your latest film looks pretty harmful

Come, one and all, let us laugh at the introverted and socially awkward 19-year-old who’s about to head to college, but isn’t interested in sex, talking to girls or drinking, so his parents decide to recruit a woman from Craigslist (Maddie, played by Jennifer Lawrence) whose task it is to coerce him into losing his virginity.

It goes against the basic principles of consent and – above all else – is just plain abusive, yet this is supposedly the “comedy” behind the upcoming film No Hard Feelings, which comes out in June but released its first trailer on Friday. You may think I’m being hyper-critical, but this movie lists Bad Teacher co-writer John Phillips as one of its writers – just so you know the high calibre of comedic content the creative team are striving for here.

It feels inevitable that some individuals who have stumbled upon this article will lambast me for complaining about a film which we only know a small amount about thanks to a two-minute trailer. I’ve seen that response before. I was one of those who slammed the ableist dumpster fire that was Sia Furler’s Music back when the trailer was released, and hardcore fans of the Titanium singer protested I had formed my opinions too early and should financially support a discriminatory film before commenting on it.

I didn’t need to. Unless Furler deployed some Sonic the Hedgehog style wizardry and edited out Maddie Ziegler’s appalling caricature of a non-speaking autistic person we could see in the trailer (she didn’t), then it was highly likely that the sickening nonsense we would see in the preview would be the same – if not, worse – in the full film. This argument applies here with No Hard Feelings.

The final product will still be a problematic “comedy” about a woman “on the brink of losing her childhood home” who is tasked with “dating” an uninterested individual (he’s named Percy, and played by Andrew Fieldman) and bringing him “out of his shell”. The dangerous implication that a man must have had sex – especially with a woman – in order to be interesting or sociable is as dangerously misogynistic as it is shockingly heteronormative.

Some might think I’m projecting and hypothesising based off a short teaser, but in presenting itself as the bog standard, American coming-of-age comedy, I know exactly the kind of stereotypical messages around sex, adulthood and relationships the film will try to send. The below-the-belt mockery of socially awkward teenagers will strike many introverts as being painfully reminiscent of their school experience, for example. If you’re queer and thus not in any way interested in the heteronormative approach to either romantic or sexual relationships, then you may well recall bullying too, around being ‘different’ to everyone else.

I remember when I came out as asexual, meaning I experience little to no sexual attraction. In my case, the idea of having intercourse freaks me out considerably. I was still told by people in my life that it may well be a case of just “finding the right person”. Other asexuals will have come across the tired trope – seemingly reinforced by this movie – that “you won’t know if you’re interested in sex until you try it”, to which we retort that heterosexual individuals don’t need to have intercourse with the opposite sex to know they feel that way. There’s just this overarching theme of changing someone’s identity because it’s considered undesirable that should be ringing alarm bells for a lot more people.

Sure, there are hints that the film will make clear that Percy’s overbearing “helicopter parents” are creepy as hell, least of all with their on-edge demeanour and the father simply advising Maddie to “date him hard”. Another trailer snippet sees Maddie tell Percy that “the best part about getting older is not giving a f*** what other people think”, so maybe it’ll reach a conclusion where Percy tells his parents he can make his own decisions as a 19-year-old and doesn’t need to change from being a quiet and introverted individual.

Trans writer Gemma Stone – who made me aware of this movie in the first place – expressed her hope that Percy simply finds the confidence to come out as asexual at the end of the film, and I’d like to see it too, but there would be a significant mountain for the film to climb – and many harmful narratives to dispel – before it even begins to make a profound point about consent, and/or accepting difference in whatever form that may be. It’s hard to make that argument when your whole comedic premise is to make fun of Percy’s ‘difference’ – or rather, indifference – in the first place.

The fact No Hard Feelings is a comedy doesn’t fill me with much optimism that it will conclude with an informative message, either. Instead, it looks set to promote the toxic masculinity surrounding virginity which must be so urgently dismantled in our media. That, I can certainly vibe with.


Images: Sony Pictures Releasing UK/YouTube.

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