“It’s very difficult to do comedy because if they don’t laugh when they should laugh, you are there with egg on your face, and that’s sad. In a serious picture you don’t hear them being bored, but in a comedy you can hear them not laughing. You tried so hard and the guy did the pratfall, but nothing — and you wish you were dead.” — Billy Wilder.

I really wanted to have a great bawdy old time with No Hard Feelings (Sony, 6.23), a casually coarse sex comedy about an “inappropriate age gap” relationship between Maddie (Jennifer Lawrence), a 32 year-old Montauk bartender in a financial hole, and Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman), an introverted 19-year-old who’s about to become a Princeton freshman.

Percy’s helicopter parents (Matthew Broderick, Laura Benanti) are concerned about his lack of outgoingness plus the fact that he’s still a virgin, so they place an ad in Craigslist that says “looking for a 20something woman who can pull our son out of his shell” — the implication being that they want this woman to sexually initiate the lad and generally prepare him for the social pressures of college.

They’re slightly concerned about Maddie being (a) 13 years older than Percy and (b) something of a low-rent townie, but they figure a woman who’s been around and has some mileage will handle him with care, etc.

So the premise isn’t bad and right off the top you can see that the laughs will come out of the somewhat impatient, blunt-spoken Maddie feeling increasingly frustrated and even irate as her attempts to seduce the reticent, romantic-minded Percy lead nowhere. You can also see from the get-go that Maddie and Percy will soon get past the sexual initiation and performance stuff and start relating to each other as vulnerable humans, etc.

To his credit, director and co-screenwriter Gene Stupnitsky balances the lewd and rude material with moments of introspection and truth-telling.

The problem is that as willing as I was to laugh and cut loose, too many of the jokes and gags simply don’t “land” or have been clumsily set up. The movie clearly wanted to do the thing that I wanted it to do, but it too often lurches and stumbles and doesn’t quite get there. It’s not that the jokes never connect — the crowd I was with responded with a fair number of yaw-haws — but Stupnitsky and Lawrence are going for bull’s-eyes (naturally) and the arrow rarely hits dead center.

Wilder knew what he was talking about — comedy is really quite hard. It has to work just so or it doesn’t work. Under-sell and it doesn’t connect — if the director-writer pushes too hard it can miss the mark to an even greater degree.

All I can tell you is that time and again during last night’s sneak preview of No Hard Feelings the funny stuff kept missing — sometimes to a very slight degree (and was therefore half-successful or at least smirk-worthy), and at other times it missed entirely. There are maybe two or three jokes that actually work, but the rest kind of fizzle or fall short in some way.

I loved that Lawrence was back with a truly spirited performance — a force-of-personality act in the vein of her Tiffany character in Silver Linings Playbook — but at the same time I felt shattered that the film wasn’t funnier. I was sitting there going “wow, this isn’t coming off…what a shame because I want it to…I’d love to join in the merriment but the movie won’t let me.”

I was especially invested in this prospective enjoyment because the woke bluenoses had already ganged up on No Hard Feelings, based on the trailer. Movie.com’s Archie Fenn complained about “the central elements of grooming and sexual harassment” being odious and worthy of condemnation, etc.

Well, guess what, Archie — No Hard Feelings traumatizes no one. 19 year-olds aren’t children and are old enough to figure out whether they want to drop trou or not, and…okay, I won’t spill the beans but there’s nothing in this film that will give the wokesters much concern.

I’ll post some more specific complaints later this week.