On Netflix: “No Hard Feelings”

Stuck in arrested development, thirty-something Maddie strings between her dead-end Uber job and loveless hook-ups in the aftermath of her mother’s passing. Faced with losing her home, Maddie responds to a bizarre job listing — help two helicopter parents loosen up their quirky 19-year-old son Percy — in the crass comedy “No Hard Feelings.”

Of the recent studio comedies, “No Hard Feelings” derives from the most traditional pathway: build a high-concept premise around a captivating star actor. Here, we have Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence pivoting from her typical dramatic fare in favor of a movie star vehicle that showcases her electric big-screen bravado. The results, while admittedly inconsistent and inconsequential, click where it matters most.

Oddly enough, “No Hard Feelings” bears more resemblance to raunchy Farrelly Brothers features from the ’90s and early 2000s than modern comedies — “There’s Something About Mary” is a good comparison. I commend the pivot from writer-director Gene Stupnitsky and his co-writer John Phillips. “No Hard Feelings” swims in amorality, utilizing its outrageous premise as a driving force for conjuring shocking setpieces. I will admit; the jokes here are the definition of hit-or-miss. Every inspired gag is matched by a limp, one-note rift on the film’s admittedly controversial premise. When the movie bends to obvious whims, the results register as an uninspired retread of the ’90s shock comedy wave.

However, Stupnitsky and Phillips, like the Farrellys before them, still find warmth buried beneath the depravity. The film paints a surprisingly earnest platonic relationship between Maddie and Percy. They share a kindred bond, gradually forging a genuine camaraderie as two outcast souls disregarded by the world around them.

It certainly helps to have two dynamic actors to depict the character’s connection. Lawrence displays the gravitational pull of a renowned movie star as Maddie. Her sharp delivery and undying dedication throughout every bit, including a beach fight scene that lands an assertive comedic punch, serve as strong testaments to her emanate abilities. Emerging actor Andrew Barth Feldman is also quite good as the introverted Percy. Feldman’s performance walks the finite line of conveying Percy’s idiosyncrasies in a humorous light while still defining depth and humanity to avoid becoming a caricature.

What the film lacks in consistent laughs, “No Hard Feelings” adeptly compensates for in its assured blend of charm and vulgarity.

Also on streaming: “The Blackening”

An assortment of close-knit college friends, Lisa, Mnamdi, Dwayne, Shanika, King, Allison, Morgan and Shawn, reunite for a vacation getaway in recognition of Juneteenth. When people suddenly vanish, the group begins to uncover a sinister scheme tied to their ethnic identities in the horror parody, “The Blackening.”

Comedic parodies, better known as spoofs, are bygone relics from comedy’s theatrical glory days. Uproarious satires like the “Airplane” and “Scary Movie” franchises once became lampooning stamps on the cinematic zeitgeist of their time. Now, the subgenre has essentially vanished from existence. The spoof movie drought has been especially frustrating for me. These films are not only hilarious, but they also offer a reflective mirror for Hollywood to confront some of cinema’s most glaring contrivances.

Thankfully, “The Blackening” fills the spoof movie void through a spirited contemporary perspective. Director Tim Story and his accomplished ensemble cast craft a breezy hangout comedy that also thrives as a deft skewering of horror conventions.

It’s nice to see Story return to his element. He originally broke it big with 2002’s crowdpleaser comedy “Barbershop” before functioning in the competent yet unspectacular director-for-hire mold. With “The Blackening,” Story finds genuine inspiration from Tracy Oliver and Dewayne Perkins’s observant material. The director exchanges his bland studio production flourishes in favor of a low-fi horror aesthetic that fits the material like a glove. Despite horror not being his forte, Story basks in the unsettling atmosphere of smoke-ridden woods and antiquated hallways in a gothic yet playful fashion.

The true source of “The Blackening’s” success lies in its material. Perkins and Oliver are salient in deconstructing the genre’s lack of Black perspectives. Their biting insights on the disposability and lack of dimension awarded to Black horror characters land impactful punches throughout, although it’s ultimately the authentic personality that the screenwriters imbue that leaves a lasting impact.

Each character appears initially as a well-worn cliche before Perkins and Oliver elevate each through a bevy of thoughtful flourishes. Whether its King showing the insightfulness masqueraded by his “thug” image or Dewayne embracing his LGBTQ+ and Black identities, each role eschews cliches by defining each friend as a lived-in person. The ensemble cast, featuring Grace Byers, Melvin Gregg, X Mayo, Perkins and many more comedic standouts, also thrive at establishing a dynamic comedic rapport.

“The Blackening” is the most inspired spoof film since the first “Scary Movie.” It reimagines the genre for the modern ilk and does so with intelligence and an incisive wit.

Matt Conway
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