January 30, 2014

That Awkward Moment

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



That Awkward Moment

ROMANCE/COMEDY:

United States, 2014

U.S. Release Date:

2014-01-31

Running Length:

1:34

MPAA Classification:

R (Sexual Content, Profanity)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Zac Efron, Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Imogen Poots, Mackenzie Davis, Jessica Lucas

Director:

Tom Gormican

Screenplay:

Tom Gormican

Cinematography:

Brandon Trost

Music:

David Torn

U.S. Distributor:

Focus Features

Subtitles:

none


That Awkward Moment exudes an "old school" romantic comedy vibe. (Since it borrows from Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost, the "old" really applies here.) The script has an '80s/'90s sensibility wrapped in a layer of lewd, crude, rude packaging. So, although writer/director Tom Gormican wants his movie to hearken back to a series of films he has an affinity for (he calls out Jerry Maguire by name), he's aware that the genre has evolved to where copious amounts of profanity and frank sexual talk are expected. It's the Judd Apatow syndrome and there are times when the blend of romance and raunchiness threatens to curdle. In the end, however, the "love conquers all" mentality wins out.

In the fine tradition of most "classic" rom-coms of decades gone by, the "romance" element is considerably stronger than the "comedy" one. That's not to say That Awkward Moment is never funny but the screenplay is stingy with moments that inspire unbridled laughter. This approach serves the storyline well; the more low-key comedic style allows the characters and their interactions to unfold gradually rather than in a flurry of punch-lines.

One could argue that the central relationship in That Awkward Moment is platonic, not romantic. It's the guy-bonding that occurs between best friends Jason (Zac Efron), Daniel (Miles Teller), and Mikey (Michael B. Jordan). These 20-something buddies make a pact to remain single and unattached. In the romance department, it's all hook-ups and one-night stands. This suits Jason fine because it's how he operates. Ditto for Daniel, a bar lizard whose gal pal Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis) rides shotgun and helps him pick up women. Mikey, having been dumped by his wife, Vera (Jessica Lucas), in a move that blindsides him, is reluctant to get back into the dating scene but eventually relents. In due course, these three men end up cheating on their pact. Mikey falls back into Vera's orbit. Daniel discovers that Chelsea merits romantic consideration. And Jason falls for Ellie (Imogen Poots), a sweet, sassy woman he initially mistakes for a hooker.

There's nothing terribly original to be found in That Awkward Moment but the genre isn't known for breaking new ground. The average romantic comedy succeeds based not on narrative innovation but on two simple factors: chemistry between the characters and the ability of the filmmakers to convince the audience to root for the happily-ever-after ending. That Awkward Moment does an adequate job in both areas. The most fleshed-out of the characters, Jason, traverses the familiar road from "self-centered jerk" to "reformed rogue willing to commit," in a way that gets the viewer on his side. Daniel and Mikey have more perfunctory arcs and, as a result, their storylines are less satisfying.

Zac Efron, who has moved far from his Disney roots (in the 2012 film, The Paperboy, he had the distinction of being urinated on by Nicole Kidman), makes an appealing cad. More importantly, he and Imogen Poots exhibit the mix of sugar and sparks necessary to keep That Awkward Moment rolling along. Miles Teller, whose John Cusack-like persona leant an offbeat charm to last summer's The Spectacular Now, has some nice moments with Mackenzie Davis. Admittedly, it's a little disappointing to see up-and-coming actor Michael B. Jordan slide from Fruitvale Station to this, where his character suffers from a chronic case of underdevelopment.

Gormican uses Manhattan as more than a setting. The location is woven into the fabric of the film. This was made on location not in a Toronto neighborhood dressed up to look like Gramercy Park. Of course, this isn't the real-world New York; it's the romanticized movie version that tourists look for but never quite find. Similarities to Woody Allen's catalog are probably not coincidental since no filmmaker has so effectively translated his affection for The Big Apple to the screen as Allen. However, while That Awkward Moment falls considerably short of the heights achieved by the likes of Annie Hall and Manhattan, it also avoids the potholes of some of Allen's less successful New York-based productions.

The salty language, naked (male) buttocks, and frank sexual dialogue are meant to give That Awkward Moment a more mature appeal but the movie feels like those elements were incorporated to avoid a PG-13 rating. Those hoping for a male version of Bridesmaids will be disappointed; the dirty, gross material in That Awkward Moment is more superficial. Instead, this will appeal primarily to those who crave the familiarity of traditional romantic comedies but aren't put off by a constant barrage of f-bombs. And, although the ending lacks the near perfection of "You had me at hello," it gets the job done. That Awkward Moment is a Valentine's Day movie that arrives two weeks early.

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