I feel like I should hate That Awkward Moment more than I actually do. On paper, it seems like a real disaster. I mean, look at the title! Nine times out of ten, only inane dribble follows the phrase “that awkward moment…” So perhaps my lukewarm feelings towards the film come from a place of exceeded expectations.
However, even after you realize this isn’t going to be the worst thing in the world, it’s still a very easy film to hate. I don’t, but I can’t blame you if you do. The leads bounce off each other quite well, so there’s a good chance that will carry the movie for you, but it’s hard to escape the underlying emptiness that seeps into every pore of this film. There are flashes of brilliance, make no mistake, but they’re mired in a fog of unrepentant, smug, off-putting masculinity.
That Awkward Moment
Director: Tom Gormican
Release Date: January 31st, 2014
That Awkward Moment is set in that fantastical Movie New York City that doesn’t actually exist: filled to the brim with quirky hipsters living alone in spacious apartments. Jason (Zac Efron) is a smooth-talking book jacket designer who’s all about the ladies. He regularly hits up bars with his friend Daniel (Miles Teller) and their dry-witted wingman Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis), in the hopes of building his “roster:” a group of rotating casual sex partners. However, their ritual is slightly changed when their friend Mikey’s (the always excellent Michael B. Jordan) wife cheats on him, forcing him into the desolate land of the single male.
As a show of solidarity, Jason and Daniel promise to stay unattached with Mikey until…I don’t know, honestly. They just all say, “We’re going to be single forever!” and that extremely tenuous promise forms the entire basis of the film’s conflict. Anyway, both Jason and Daniel fall in love almost immediately; Jason with Ellie (Imogen Poots) — a girl he meets in a bar — and Daniel with Chelsea. As all this is happening, Mikey seems to be moving towards reconciliation with his soon to be ex-wife.
Now, I wouldn’t blame you for assuming that That Awkward Moment might actually take advantage of these plot threads. Once Daniel and Chelsea started making out, I expected the film to go the Greek route: misunderstandings build and secrets accumulate, resulting in an explosive climax where everything is laid bare. And that does sort of happen, but not every character is involved, so the scene itself doesn’t take full advantage of the setup.
So the overall plot really doesn’t work, but the moment-to-moment jokes can be quite amusing. Most of the jokes flew by so quickly that they almost gave me whiplash. Even if you didn’t like one punchline, there’s another one right around the bend that might land. And, surprisingly considering both the subject matter and tone, most of the jokes aren’t sexist. When they are misogynistic, it’s hard to resist cringing. But the norm is Efron and Teller coming up with different ways to describe an orange penis, so if that sounds like your bag, great. That is the tone of this film.
That Awkward Moment wouldn’t be worth a drunken rental if it was rated PG-13. The seventh word uttered in this movie is ‘fucking’, so director/writer Tom Gormican is definitely taking advantage of the rating. That mentality definitely helps some of the film’s slower moments, but I can’t help but wonder if the movie could’ve been helped by a lewder direction.
Or another direction entirely, perhaps. Towards the end, Jason and Daniel meet in a café to discuss how deeply in love Daniel is, in what is easily the movie’s funniest moment. By deriving its humor from joy as opposed to sarcasm, it actually delivers on the promise of a guy-friendly romantic comedy. The scads of Nicholas Sparks rip-offs that infest the cinema around Valentine’s Day never come close to reaching the genuine emotion on display in that scene. In fact…it’s almost as if good moments are good moments regardless of intended demographic!
Since there aren’t many raunchy gags, most of the film’s humor comes off as a little weak. The jokes are mostly preoccupied with how dumb all the characters are, but they’re self-deprecating in a cowardly way. When someone cracks a joke at the expense of another character, it’s played as if we’re supposed to laugh with everyone as opposed to laughing at the subject. There’s an inconsistency between the words and the delivery.
The cast bounces off each other very well, especially when they’re given an opportunity to do some improv. Michael B. Jordan is the absolute highlight of the film, but you knew that, because that man has never given a bad performance. Everyone is obviously having a good time, and that persistently shines through. Even Zac Efron does a pretty good job!
Now, even with all that moderate praise, I still can’t blame you if you walked out of That Awkward Moment seething with an unparalleled level of rage. Put simply, this film is aggressively mindless. I mean, this is some next-level, reality-tv-show-made-out-of-communion-wafers emptiness.
And it doesn’t seem like that’ll be the case at first! There are little flashes where the movie tries to be genuinely thoughtful. Are you soulless, young college audience member who probably views this sex-happy lifestyle as something to emulate? At what point must you face mortality and just grow the fuck up already? I use the word “flashes,” because that’s all they are. Quick glimpses of a smarter film immediately smothered by “guys just bein’ guys!!!”
There’s a great moment in Act 2 where Jason is pouring his soul out to some random middle-aged guy at a bar. “I can’t stop thinking about her,” he says. “Sounds like you need to get laid,” the man chuckles. And for a moment, Jason “gets” it (along with the audience, it’s a pretty obvious moment). That’s him in the future! But no, as the film comes to a close, Mikey is in the same place Jason was, and that development is treated as a positive thing.
This is all discounting the relentless, utterly hollow platitudes about love and relationships, of course. That Awkward Moment’s vapidity is not simply relegated to the way it treats its themes; it also extends to the very themes themselves.
There’s also a startling lack of tact present throughout the whole affair. About halfway through the movie, the audience is blindsided by a morbid tonal shift that not artificially raises the personal stakes for certain characters. I can’t possibly stress how blunt this change is: the twist comes literally right after a punchline, with bright, colorful lighting. You can almost hear the movie straining under the weight of this horrible creative decision.
This is also a very difficult movie to recommend if you get your gender politics from the 21st Century. One of the first jokes uttered in the film is in response to Mikey purchasing some ice cream to get over a breakup. “What are you, a fat teenage girl?” someone (probably Jason) utters. Ha! It’s funny because women like ice cream! And they’re fat! There’s also not a single woman with an arc unrelated to a relationship with a man. In fact, I think there are only two female characters in the whole film.
Guys, I am not a man who is powered by the idea of casual sex. I will also go see a movie aimed at women if it looks good. So, I didn’t really need a romantic comedy “for guys,” nor do I feel the need to emulate these protagonists. From the very beginning, That Awkward Moment had a lot to prove in my eyes. At times, it feels like it does want to be something more; it wants to earn your respect. But it also has to be inoffensive, and that mentality won out in the end.
Years down the line, I may forget about all the stuff I didn’t like about That Awkward Moment and put it on some list of guilty pleasures that just I rattled off the top of my head. But, for the moment, I don’t know that I can honestly recommend this movie to people who enjoy thinking.