by Philip Price
How could something with so much potential and so many valuable moving parts be reduced to such utter filth? Well, that problem and answer is on full display in what we are calling “That Awkward Moment.” Each of the principal cast has better work in them, some of it just being released on home video, and others coming later this year in theaters. Why each of them decided to waste their valuable time on a project like this is beyond me, but maybe it was for nothing more than an opportunity to hang out with one another as that seems to be the hook the studio is looking to sell in the advertisements for the film so why should we think they made it look any different to Zac Efron, Miles Teller or Michael B. Jordan? While Efron is the clear marquee name here because he will put the most teenage girls in the seats it is Teller and Jordan who have actually been making the better career choices as of late that have landed them on many critics’ radars and have movie lovers like myself looking forward to their future projects. Both Teller and Jordan starred in films that made my list of the top 15 films of 2013 and I like Efron enough that I was really hoping this along with “Neighbors” later this summer might put him on the map as having a great transitional year after attempts at prestige like “The Paperboy,” “At Any Price” and “Parkland” failed to resonate with anyone. While I still have more than enough hope for Efron's pairing with Seth Rogen later this year “That Awkward Moment” is not his “The Vow” and it is clear he will not have the breakout year Channing Tatum had in 2012, but will instead continue looking for that one role that will push him to the next level while hopefully, at the very least, cementing his status as a young adult primed at playing to his comedic chops in quality comedies. That retrospective of where each of these stars are at in their career right now aside, “That Awkward Moment” had the potential to be an interesting and unique take on the romantic comedy from the perspective of a couple of twenty-something males living it up in New York City, but instead paints a portrait of these assholes and pathetic losers who have such a delayed sense of maturity that it takes them crushing young ladies emotions in more ways than one to realize they may actually care about them after all. It isn't flat out horrible, Teller does all he can to salvage it, but when there is hardly anyone to like on screen and no entertainment value in their moral ambiguity there is hardly anything to like or enjoy at all. Pity, because it had such serious potential.
First time writer/director Tom Gormican depicts his trio of badly behaving young men with a flair for camaraderie and an excess of chemistry but then decides to drown them in plot and unnecessary conflict that doesn't seem inherent to their character, but instead introduces into their lives unnecessary issues and a web of lies that could have all been avoided had these people simply acted their age. That is how annoying this film ultimately turns out to be. We first meet Mikey (Jordan) as his wife, Vera (Jessica Lucas), explains to him that she wants a divorce and that she has been seeing another man who unfortunately resembles Morris Chestnut. Mikey is a doctor, he went through school, he married the college sweetheart, he "checked all the boxes" as he says repeatedly and now he doesn't understand why things don't seem to be working out. In his state of grief he resorts to the saving grace of his two best friends, Jason (Efron) and Daniel (Teller). Both of which have a dream job of working in a hip, New York City-style loft facility and coming up with book cover designs that apparently pay them enough to each have very roomy apartments despite the state of the publishing industry at the moment. Jason and Daniel haven't been in relationships in some time it seems as both have developed a "roster" of women they like to call up and sleep with when their nightly outings to the same bar don't turn up anything new. The roster exists so that when it gets to the point that the booty calls begin to inquire about the state of their relationship or that they want more than sex out of these meetings they can move on and call the next girl on the list. It's this kind of outright, pre-meditated scummy behavior that puts us not even on the fence about these guys but repulses us from the beginning and makes us wonder why the film never follows them to a clinic to get tested because they definitely need to be. The only redeeming character here is Jordan's Mikey and even he comes off more pathetic than empathetic because he continues to go back to his wife (who was cheating on him, let’s not forget) and give her an ample amount of chances before she flat-out has to remind him why it wasn't going to work in the first place. Naturally, as this is intended to be a rom-com, Jason and Daniel both meet their matches in Ellie (Imogen Poots) and Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis) who go from being the girls they like to hang out with to "the ones" they need to be with that will transform their entire outlook on relationships and love.
The problem with all of this though is that we simply don't buy it. We don't believe in anything in this world and we don't believe these guys would be this idiotic or oblivious to the details of the situations around them. It would have been better, more genuine even to keep each of the personality traits the same with each of the guys and simply leave out the hokey storytelling device that sets the events of the film in motion. You could simply have these guys act the same way based on their misplaced pride and it would have seemed more real than the pointless pact they made with one another in a effort to support their damaged friend. This only brings us to another seemingly obvious point that the film misses and this is more in the writing than anything else. It is clear Gormican knows that the most relatable character is Mikey and so he shapes the story device around this experience nearly everyone has dealt with at some point in their life and suckers us in through this angle while reverting to Jason to be the main character and the character he really wants to concentrate on. He knows though, that telling the story strictly from Jason's perspective is going to alienate the audience because Jason is little more than a selfish asshole and in a way I'm surprised Efron even agreed to play such a d-bag because it seems it will also stand to do nothing but alienate his own fan base which doesn't need to happen if his latest box office returns are any indication. We are intrigued by the story surrounding Mikey and where a guy who seemingly has it all together and figured out goes when the unexpected takes him completely by surprise and then are left to rarely re-visit him again. Instead, we are stuck with Jason who treats women as complete objects to satisfy his carnal desires and then dismisses them, squinting as they leave in hopes that they demand little more from him. Teller is kind of the middle man here, understanding that what he and Jason do isn't great and that his best friend/hook-up helper Chelsea is more than just that and something increasingly special to him. As little time is spent on Mikey, Daniel gets the shortest end of the stick despite Teller's performance being the most genuinely funny while his relationship with Davis' Chelsea is easily the most believable. Poots provides a nice foil for Efron's Jason and someone who could have easily taught him the lesson he needed to learn, but instead folds into his game as well.
With all of the above negativity I feel I haven't completely represented the film accurately as there are still moments where we see the charisma between our three leads come out and we understand why someone thought this might be a good idea. There are moments of writing, while still thinking it's too smart for its own good, are at least creative and lend the film a momentary break from all of its narcissism and simply allow the self-aware walls to fall down and give us that insight we all crave to reassure us we can at least share common experiences and feelings on some topics. A few exchanges between Jason and Poots’ Ellie are well-staged and expertly delivered by the young actors embodying them which says a lot as it is clear from my reasoning above that it is not the easiest thing to do to like these people. Teller infuses his brand of fast-talking/Vince Vaughn-like rapport into the scenes where the guys are just hanging out with one another and creates, whether scripted or not, some reliable running jokes that sustain themselves because of the way they're played rather than the fact they resonate with any part of the story, because they don't. “That Awkward Moment” doesn't actually have all that many awkward spots because it is so confident in itself, in its location and especially in its wardrobe, but more than anything it doesn't have a core heartbeat that will allow it to resonate with the masses, but instead will tell the young girls that go to see it for the marquee names and looks of its stars that it is unavoidable that they will have to sleep with a guy for them to even consider you as relationship material and even if you give them all of yourself that likely isn't going to happen, not unless you really have something special in your attitude or outlook that will serve as something they connect with and can see themselves actually conversing with you (about more than sex, obviously). I don't try to sound like a prude or allow my own personal moral compass to complicate the way I view a piece of art or someone else's vision for a film, but the actions and messages these people are sending on this large platform is too disgusting and something those young girls will take note of and act on as they enter college or the single life afterwards to ignore. Not that they aren't aware of these things already, but to see it is largely accepted as the norm in a major motion picture has to at least be disheartening, right? I know the film in general was.