The space between casual hook-up and serious romance is examined in this rom-com “greatest hits” mash-up assembled by first time writer-director Tom Gormican. Despite an unreliable screenplay and a general sense of pointlessness in creating another iteration of the same genre conventions that have been trodden and retrodden, Gormican dodges a bullet by casting the right actors. “That Awkward Moment,” if only barely, staves off the lack of interesting films coming out this time of year by reaffirming the talents of its leads and introducing us to a few lesser known actors.
Three, twenty-something guys living in New York City make an unbreakable Bro Pact to avoid serious dating at all costs only to find out that staying single isn’t as easy as it sounds.
Jason (Zac Efron) is the smooth bachelor – content sleeping his way through his “roster” until he meets a girl named Ellie (Imogen Poots) and encounters love for the first time. Daniel (Miles Teller) and Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis) are best friends and skilled wing mates who finally push their friendship further. And then there’s Mikey (Michael B. Jordan) – he’s trying to get his footing back on the dating scene after his marriage unexpectedly falls apart.
Shawn Paper and Greg Tillman edited the film and are responsible for stitching together a lot of parallel plot advancements in each of the guys’ individual love lives that all intersect in one bathroom at a Christmas party. Paper and Tillman manage to give each story its dues – giving us the best parts of three entertaining, if conventional, plots rather than exhausting a single one for the 90 minutes. The momentum carried by checking in with each of the three love stories lends a modern pacing that makes for an easy watch. The exciting indie music selection that backs many scenes is a big part of this contemporary tone, but before long the soundtrack becomes an irritating crutch to pad out emotional undertones that should have been left up to the actors’ performances.
Co-stars Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan both had critically-acclaimed breakout roles in 2013 (Teller was in the brilliant coming-of-age comedy “The Spectacular Now,” Jordan in devastating drama “Fruitvale Station”). These are actors that will use their next two or three roles to prove themselves not as flukes but as serious up-and-comers to independent dramedy.
Teller does a lot of the elevation work that makes these archetypal characters worth meeting. As Daniel, Teller balances his appearance as an obnoxious player with the slow reveal that he’s really the most charming person in the film. He indeed steals the show from Efron, who doesn’t serve much transcendent function beyond drawing in the girlfriends of the men who will come for the R-rated raunch. Efron is casted solely to charm his way into our hearts as the central character but fails to hone in on authentic charisma. We’re meant to believe Ellie – a successful novelist – would actually fall in love with someone that speaks with the charm and wit of a bad young adult romance novel – maybe that says something about the film’s target audience.
The cast succeeds best when working off one another in the group scenes. This trio has real-life chemistry that seeps into their characters and reveals a bit of the off-screen improv atmosphere that’s become a signature of Apatow and McKay productions – a quality benchmark Gormican could one day hit if he can find a reliable way to predict what material is going to work with audiences. Even within the same scene, back-to-back punch lines take turns landing and bombing. Some wit and surprise are welcome distractions from the otherwise predetermined romantic course.
Jason and Daniel make their living in one of these idealistic movie-jobs designing book covers as a team with zero accountability and a stunning workplace. Gormican gives us something expected in this setup, but then inserts a completely inexplicable and hilariously awkward character (played by Josh Pais) who approaches Jason and Daniel each day with “Hey guys, its Fred.” to which they reply “Fred…it’s not a telephone, you’re right in front of us.”
Another scene involving male nudity and the effects of Viagra turns a standard, hack bit into unexpected laughs. Every time we’re taken to a quirky and straight-up weird place, we’re refreshed and awoken only to be lulled back to submission by the rom-com-on-autopilot moments.
“That Awkward Moment” doesn’t challenge itself to do anything new and exciting, but it does condense the romantic comedy experience – the good and the bad – into three bite-size stories. Laugh at a few jokes, fawn at the romance, and carry on. It won’t leave much of a mark on the face of the genre, but keep reserved expectations and “That Awkward Moment” is an easy choice for the college audience – guys’ (or girls’) nights out and date nights alike.
US Wide Release: January 31, 2014 | UK Wide Release: January 29, 2014
1 hr. 34 min.