That Awkward Moment (2014) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: R for sexual content and language throughout
Running Time: 94 min.
Cast: Zac Efron, Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Imogen Poots, Mackenzie Davis, Jessica Lucas, Addison Timlin, Josh Pais
Director: Tom Gormican
Screenplay: Tom Gormican
Review published January 31, 2014
One can only wonder why this film, originally titled Are We Officially Dating?, didn't go with the more appropriate title, This Awkward Movie, as this feeble rom-com by first-time writer-director Tom Gormican can never settle into anything resembling a good groove at any point.
The story, such as it is, involves a trio of New Yorker best buds in their twenties, each with his own issues when it comes to dating and relationships. They conclude that the only commitment worth keeping is the bromance they have with each other. They decide they're going to date as they like, but won't ever get into a relationship with any woman they see, and plan to keep up this lifestyle for the rest of their lives, if they can. As luck would have it, all three find themselves on the precipice of breaking their vows right off the bat, but none of them wants to be the first one to 'punk out', so they keep their individual burgeoning romances from one another until one of the other guys breaks.
As with many poorly written ensemble dating comedies, the men really only view women as sex objects, while the women are so sketchily written, they end up being not much more than that, except that they are "keepers" if they can act just like "one of the guys". There's a quality cast here in order to make a successful bromance and romantic comedy around, but this script has too many major issues that keep these actors from appearing to be anything but obnoxious most of the time. Wisecracks abound, about on the level of a poorly written sitcom, except with much more emphasis on sex, bathroom, and masturbation humor to try to squeak out a few lowbrow chuckles from a target audience that is likely barely out of high school.
But that's what's weirdest about the film, as it feels as it the dialogue is written for characters who are much older than their 20s. Gormican peppers his screenplay with plenty of references to things from the 80s and early 90s rather than most things one might find someone not far out of college referring to in the world of 2014. For instance, a character refers to Morris Chestnut as the guy from Boyz N the Hood, rather than the guy from Kick-Ass 2, The Call, or Identity Thief -- three lucrative, widely released movies he has prominently appeared in within a year prior to the release of That Awkward Moment, rather than 23-year-old R-rated flick released when these characters were toddlers. They also refer to Michael Jordan as the guy who sometimes has an off night -- not Kobe, not Lebron, not anyone else who has played ball in the last decade. Heck, they even refer to the General Lee from "The Dukes of Hazzard", plus make references to Bridget Jones' Diary, Jerry Maguire (they actually quote from this one), and Beverly Hills Cop. Not surprisingly, writer-director Gormican just turned 44 years old, perhaps dusting this script off after pulling it out from a creaky drawer from a long-forgotten nightstand he kept in the cobwebbed attic since the time he was about the same age as the characters featured in his movie.
If there are any non-"awkward moments" in the film, they come from the interplay between Miles Teller's (The Spectacular Now, 21 & Over) character, Daniel, and his realization that one of the girls he has kept in the 'friend zone', Chelsea, might be truly something special. Teller has the boy-next-door charm of John Cusack, and as played by Mackenzie Davis (Breathe In, Smashed), Chelsea seems to be more than just a pretty-faced, trophy girlfriend to bag. One can only wonder how much better the film might have been if this were a romantic comedy with these two as the leads, with more time to flesh out their characters, rather than keeping things on the shallow end by sharing time with all three equally, in addition to banal bro jokes to pad out the time in between the inevitable end pairings.
And, unfortunately, the 'dreamiest' but least talented of the three actors gets plenty of screen time, Zac Efron (Parkland, The Lucky One). Efron is probably the biggest of the draws at the box office at this point of their careers, and being one of the producers, he has the most skin in the game, but he often comes off as terribly unlikeable here. Meanwhile, Michael B. Jordan, who gave such a stellar performance in Fruitvale Station that many critics would mention it as one of the Academy Awards most notable snubs, gets very little to do in the comedy or romance department to make much of a dent. Most of his gags are relegated to the orange discoloration of his penis that occurs when he accidentally uses self-tanning bronzer as his self-love lubricant. That's a gag gets milked more than he does.
Much of this might be forgiven if the film were even remotely funny. Instead, Gormican has to contort each scene well beyond the point of liberal plausibility just to force out some laughs. In one scene, Zac Efron's character is invited to a "dress-up" occasion by the woman he's seeing, but he misinterprets this to mean a costume party rather than a formal cocktail party. When he shows up sporting a costume that includes a giant strap-on dildo, rather than back out gracefully once he realizes his faux pas, he walks right on in and even parades it in front of his gal's parents for their first introduction. Meanwhile, the rest of the partygoers are nonchalant or even mildly amused. The film's climax features all three men meeting cute in the same bathroom at a posh party all three are attending together-but-separately for reasons that defy any rational explanation.
That Awkward Moment is a failure at both the bromance and rom-com genres that creaks along with sophomoric hijinks and exhausting genre clichés that will likely only please those predisposed to titter at Viagra jokes (do perpetually horny, womanizing bachelors in their 20s really pop erectile dysfunction pills before hitting the bar scene?), recurring toilet humor, and schmaltzy, erstatz-emotional reconciliation scenes among characters so sketchy we can scarcely remember their names once the movie is over. The most "awkward moment" you'll experience is the one you'll feel about five minutes in when you realize you paid money for this.
The end credits feature outtakes that are no worse than the 90-minutes that made the final cut.
©2014 Vince Leo