In Sony’s new comedy No Hard Feelings, Jennifer Lawrence’s 32-year-old character is hired by a couple of helicopter parents to “date” their 19-year-old son, played by Andrew Barth Feldman.

Yes, in both the ad the parents post on Craigslist and an awkward in-person meeting between Lawrence’s Maddie and the mother and father played by Laura Benanti and Matthew Broderick, date, in quotes, appears to be a euphemism.

“Do you mean date him or DATE him?” Maddie pointedly asks when she meets the parents.

“Date him hard,” Broderick’s Laird blurts out.

“I’ll date his brains out,” Maddie chimes in.

It’s this initial premise, included in the film’s trailer and based on a real ad from a decade ago unearthed by the film’s producers and shared with writer-director Gene Stupnitsky, that has sparked a social media backlash to what seems like a creepy concept, with internet critics also taking issue with Lawrence’s character’s efforts to seduce a much younger character.

And Benanti agrees what the parents are asking is “insane,” but she and others associated with the film explain that it’s precisely this extreme helicopter parenting that the movie is satirizing with her and Broderick’s characters.

“It’s a cautionary tale,” she told The Hollywood Reporter at Tuesday’s premiere. “If you are a helicopter parent who puts your child in such a bubble, they do not know how to exist outside of that bubble, you are going to make the exact opposite and insane choice, which is what they are doing here. I feel like it is a very satirical look at what can happen if you do not give your children a longer leash to figure things out for themselves. Otherwise, you’re going to end up curating their life forever.”

Broderick added, “I guess what happens is when a kid goes off to school, it’s so frightening that they’ll be happy and they’ll make friends and they’ll take care of themselves that some parents go to any length to make that transition work. And it’s a hard time. I’ve been through it. But you really have to let them make it on their own. But these parents decide to mess with nature.”

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The film, producer Marc Provissiero explained, grew out of his attempt to make a movie about helicopter parenting, initially wanting Stupnitsky to adapt the book How to Raise an Adult, but the writer-director thought it was a great idea but didn’t know what the story was. Then, fellow producer Naomi Odenkirk made him aware of the Craigslist ad that inspired the film.

“I had drinks with Gene about six months later,” Provissiero recalled. “At dinner, he said, ‘I’m looking for something for someone like a Jennifer Lawrence.’ Halfway through the dinner I remembered this Craigslist ad that Naomi brought in six months earlier. And he didn’t believe me, and he made me dig it up and show it to him on my phone. And, he said, ‘I’ll write this for you on spec.’”

As for what the mom and dad in the ad and the movie are offering, Odenkirk said, “It’s parents overstepping their bounds, for sure.”

But, Provissiero said, “It’s not that far removed from actual parenting choices. You want to do everything you can for your kid. Where’s the line.”

Though the ad was real, Stupnitsky didn’t try to look into who posted it or what happened, but he and the producers thought it was a great jumping-off point for a story.

“It didn’t really matter what happened and if anyone answered it,” Stupnitsky said. “It was just, who are these parents, these helicopter parents who are putting this ad out and who’s their son, what’s going on there? And who answers this?”

And he assured that those who’d seen the movie wouldn’t think they’d just seen something creepy.

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“If you feel that way when you come out of the movie, I would be surprised,” he told THR on the red carpet at the New York screening. “We took great pains to be careful about the ick factor because it could go that way. … We took a humanist approach and I think that’s all you can ask for.”

And both he and castmember Natalie Morales, who plays Lawrence’s character’s friend, have a swift counterargument for those upset about the age difference between the two main characters.

“Have you seen The Graduate?” she said. “[Lawrence is] supposed to be playing an older woman. There are so many movies where the male lead is much older than the female lead, and TV shows especially, and nobody bats an eye. So what’s the difference.”

And Stupnitsky points out there’s a 15-year age difference between Lawrence and her Silver Linings Playbook co-star Bradley Cooper: “It goes the other way too.”

When asked about the controversy, Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group president Sanford Panitch, who long championed the film, simply said, “It’s just a really funny movie.”

And Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group CEO Tom Rothman insisted he knew he had a winner when he saw the script.

“When you’ve done this as long as I have, you know it when you read it,” he told THR. “And it was not only very very funny, it was very kindhearted and very sweet, and I thought the combination of the wit and the heart was very special. And I’m a huge fan of Jennifer’s.”

Broderick, meanwhile, said of the screenplay, “It was just really fun to read, as silly as it sounds, that’s a lot. Often I’ll read something, and it’s a little hard to read it. This was just a pleasure.”




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