Last month, the trailer for Gene Stupnitsky and John Phillips’ latest film No Hard Feelings hit the interwebs to extreme and incredibly mixed feedback.
The story is about a 32 year-old Maddie (played by Jennifer Lawrence) who is broke, car-less and looking for a quick fix after a messy breakup and auto-repo. She sees an ad on craigslist from a set of parents trying to set up their 19-year-old high school senior, Percy, with an older woman who can “get him out of his shell,” and essentially coerce him into losing his virginity, an act that his parents hope will usher him into “manhood.”
It’s not hard to see why this movie has a horrible message. Almost clip-for-clip, the trailer shares some pretty horrific concepts. Here’s a basic list of scenes that make us want to call the police:
- 19-year-old Percy’s parents are paying someone to “date” him, without his knowledge or consent
- Percy rejects Maddie’s attempts at seduction several times over (even macing her at one point)
- Maddie attempts to get him drunk as an underager Maddie’s friends encourage her to “loosen him up” in order for him to sleep with her
- She pressures him to go skinny dipping despite on-going rejection
- She goes on to earn his friendship and trust, making him easier to manipulate
Grooming, which is the deceptive process used by sexual predators to facilitate trust and sexual conduct, is no less disgusting when done to boys than when it is done to girls – even if he’s one year older than the legal age of 18. This played-out male “fantasy” only makes it harder for young men to identify sexual harassment, and certainly harder for them to come forward with it.
It shouldn’t need to be said, but take a moment to think about if this film would be made if the genders were reversed. Can you imagine pitching a film where a 32-year old man was paid to groom and coerce a 19-year-old woman into having sex that she doesn’t want to have? No one would make that movie. But it’s presented as funny and quirky when a grown woman does the manipulating.
According to Psychology Today, female-perputatred sexual abuse is just about 2% of all sexual abuse reports. However, about 40% of male victims of sexual abuse report their were abused by a woman. These rates are incredibly low, and for several reasons. It is estimated that only a third of individuals who were abused actually report the perpetrator. Men coming forward about being sexually abused by a woman can face a myriad of negative responses including not being believed, blaming it on the man, and the general trivialization of his experiences.
The article goes on to explain the Sexual Grooming Model (SGM) that has five stages.
- Selecting a Victim
- Gaining Access and Isolating the Minor
- Developing Trust with the Victim and Adults in the Minor’s Life
- Desensitizing the Victim to Sexual and Physical Contact
- Maintenance Behaviors Following the Commission of the Abuse
In less than three minutes, the trailer goes through every step of the sexual grooming model!
Despite all the horrible messaging, the film seems to have plenty of support. The YouTube comments of the trailer video (a usually vitriolic place to be) are flooded with messages of support, commenting about how funny the trailer is and how they can’t wait for “real comedy” to come back to the big screen.
There’s no doubt that Lawrence’s comedic chops are strong, she has some great one-liners (Oh, Princeton, I’ve heard of it) and some solid physical comedy gags (reacting to getting maced and getting punched in the throat) we only wish that she would take her skills to a plot that’s actually funny, and not predatorial.
Top photo: screengrab from the “No Hard Feelings” trailer