What follows is a scene that Lawrence’s agent apparently attempted to talk her out of doing, with Maddie going into total Jason Voorhees mode by storming out of the water, walking with a relentless measured gait across the sand, and finally, as naked as the day she was born, beating the shit out of some dumb kids. With the same physicality that made Katniss Everdeen the hero to millions of children, Lawrence boldly performs an action sequence in her birthday suit which involves hitting both men and women in impolite places.
“Everyone in my life and my team is doing the right thing and going, ‘Are you sure? Are you sure? Are you sure?’” Lawrence told Variety in June while discussing why she agreed to do that scene exactly as written. “I didn’t even have a second thought. It was hilarious to me.” According to the star, the sequence still involved “a lot of rehearsal” and was reportedly filmed on a closed set with intimacy coordinators. Even so, the scene is still difficult to entirely wrap one’s mind around: Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar-winner and star of the beloved Hunger Games movies, did full frontal nudity and not as a bid for artistic credibility by way of another award-friendly festival darling, or in order to make a political statement. She did it as a gag where her character goes T-1000 on some doofuses.
In its own twisted way, this suggests a different kind of artistic credibility too. Lawrence is someone who’s publicly stated more than once she wanted to do a comedy that matches her blunt public persona, and when she finally did, she defied all conventional wisdom within the industry and even her “team”—and the result was, indeed, the funniest scene of No Hard Feelings.
This is anathema to how movie star images have been cultivated either “back in the day” or right now. Nudity has obviously always been a taboo, particularly for female thespians who historically have been held to a different standard than men. Nonetheless, female nudity has remained ubiquitous throughout the history of cinema, a medium dominated and controlled by men behind the camera and in the studio’s boardrooms; and the actresses who played that game have long risked being put into a limiting box by the same industry which urged them in this direction. While that double standard has slowly begun changing in recent years, the conventional thinking around how best to build movie stardom in the 21st century has arguably gotten even more conservative. Today, to reach a level of fame that might one day give you the ability to choose your own projects, you’re encouraged to appear in franchise films that appeal to everyone.
The actors who (arguably) became movie stars in the 2010s mostly did so by playing beloved characters from pre-existing intellectual property (or “IP”). Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and Chris Pratt joined the pantheon of “Hollywood Chrises” by each portraying a superhero in a Marvel movie; Robert Pattinson got half-a-dozen intriguing indies financed because he was Edward Cullen to a generation of moviegoers; and arguably there was no bigger “It Girl” of the last decade than Katniss Everdeen herself, with Lawrence leading The Hunger Games in the same year she won an Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook. The next year, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire grossed $865 million worldwide, and Lawrence got another Oscar nod for American Hustle.
The critical awareness of her talent goes back to 2010’s Winter’s Bone, which announced her out of Sundance as one of the most compelling screen presences of her generation. But Katniss is what made her a star whose marquee name got a movie about the inventor of a map financed. She appealed to everyone.