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In Sony’s new comedy Without hard feelingsJennifer Lawrence’s 32-year-old character is hired by a pair of helicopter parents to “date” their 19-year-old son, played by Andrew Barth Feldman.
Yes, both in the ad the parents post on Craigslist and an awkward in-person encounter between Lawrence’s Maddie and her mother and father played by Laura Benanti and Matthew Broderick, the date, in quotes, seems to be an understatement.
“Are you going to date him or DATE with him?” Maddie explicitly asks when she meets her parents.
“Go out with him,” snaps the Laird of Broderick.
“I’ll blow his brains out,” Maddie chimes in.
It’s this initial premise, included in the film’s trailer and based on an actual commercial 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 appears to be a creepy concept, with even internet critics taking issue with Lawrence’s character’s efforts to seduce a much younger character.
And Benanti agrees what parents are asking for is “crazy,” but she and others associated with the film explain that it’s this extreme helicopter parenting that the film is satirizing with her and Broderick’s characters.
“It’s a cautionary tale,” he said The Hollywood Reporter at the premiere on Tuesday. “If you’re a helicopter parent who puts your child in such a bubble, he doesn’t know how to exist outside of that bubble, you’re going to make the exact opposite and crazy choice, which is what they’re doing here. I feel like it’s a very satirical look at what can happen if you don’t give your kids a longer leash to figure things out for themselves. Otherwise, you will end up curing their life forever.
Broderick added, “I guess what happens is when a kid goes to school, it’s so scary that they’re going to be happy and make friends and take care of themselves that some parents go out of their way to transition work. And it’s a time difficult. I’ve been there. But you really have to let them fend for themselves. But these parents decide to mess with nature.
The film, producer Marc Provissiero explained, grew out of his attempt to make a film 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 tipped him off about 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 Jennifer Lawrence.’ Halfway through dinner I remembered this Craigslist ad that Naomi had brought in six months ago. And he didn’t believe me, and he made me dig it up and show him on the phone. And, he said, ‘I’ll write it for you on spec.’”
As for what the mom and dad in the ad and in the film are offering, Odenkirk said, “It’s parents who push their limits, for sure.”
But, Provissiero said, “It’s not all that far from real parenting choices. You want to do everything possible for your child. Where’s the line.
While the ad was real, Stupnitsky didn’t try to investigate who posted it or what happened, but he and the producers thought it was a great starting point for a story.
“It didn’t really matter what happened and if anyone answered,” Stupnitsky said. “It was just, who are these parents, these helicopter parents who are putting this ad out and who is their kid, what’s going on there? And who answers this?
And he ensured that those who had seen the film would not think they had just seen something creepy.
“If you feel like this when you come out of the movie, I’d be surprised,” he said DAY on the red carpet of the New York screening. “We worked really hard to watch out for the ick factor because it could go that way. … We have taken a humanist approach and I think that’s all you can ask for.
And both he and cast member Natalie Morales, who plays Lawrence’s character’s friend, have a quick counterargument for those upset about the age difference between the two main characters.
“You saw Graduation?” she said. “(Lawrence should) play an older woman. There are so many movies where the male lead is much older than the female lead, and especially TV shows, and no one bats an eye. So what’s the difference.
And Stupnitsky points out that 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 chairman Sanford Panitch, who has long supported the film, simply said, “It’s just a really fun 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 been doing this for as long as I’ve been doing, you know it when you read it,” she said DAY. “And he was not only very very funny, he was very kind and very sweet, and I thought the combination of spirit and heart was very special. And I’m a big fan of Jennifer’s.
Broderick, meanwhile, said of the script, “It was really fun to read, as silly as that sounds, it’s a lot. I often read something, and it’s a bit difficult to read. This was just a treat.