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That Awkward Moment
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by Brett Gallman

"...when your movie sort of sucks and its title invites obvious abuse."
2 stars

You want awkward? Imagine a film that tries to drag the impish (yet nigh-sociopathic) impulses of the 80s sex comedy into a bromance fuelled rom-com that winds up taking itself far too seriously.

In what could pass for a bro's answer to the mumblecore scene, "That Awkward Moment" concerns itself with a trio of post-collegiate twenty-somethings in Manhattan: ringleader Jason (Zac Efron) has patented a soulless system of hooking up with and developing a "roster" of sexual conquests and has passed his teachings onto Daniel (Miles Teller), a disheveled goof with an inappropriate quip for every situation. Mikey (Michael B. Jordan) has emerged from this morass as a respectable human being who has responsibly
"checked off all the boxes": med school, a steady job, and a marriage that quickly goes sour when he discovers his wife's infidelity. In solidarity, the three buddies make a pact to stay single, a pledge that's immediately complicated when each begins to kindle (or rekindle) a relationship.

Tackling the rom-com from a male perspective proves to be a fascinating experiment that highlights the absurdity of various sex conquest films and the importance of committing to their wacky tone--at no point can you ever expect to take a film called "Screwballs" seriously, and, having enjoyed several titles with the word "balls," I'm not prone to clutching pearls. But, man, this movie's got issues. I mean, if a lead character keeping a rotation of fuck-buddies doesn't seem suspect enough, also consider that he assumes a girl (Imogen Poots) to be a hooker (and later thinks it's a good idea to admit it) before ditching her after a one-night stand. And it only gets worse when the girl somehow falls for him anyway, only to enter a relationship that's defined by his screw-ups and his inability to commit--and we're ultimately supposed to feel bad for him once the film decides this is all serious business.

What follows is a standard-issue "commitment-phobe finds true love" story, only it's blended with a copious amount of dick jokes and dude-bro banter (that admittedly pops thanks to the cast). But its familiarity and predictability are a huge problem when it's also accompanied by irredeemably bad behavior. Jason isn't your typical guy who has spooked himself out of falling in love but rather a callous, unfeeling asshole who ditches a girl at her dad's funeral because his attendance would solidify their relationship into an actual thing. I kept waiting for a twist that would reveal that he was actually an alien pop person incapable of human emotion.

His buddies' plights are more reasonable and humane: Daniel falls for the group's gal-pal (Mackenzie Davis) but has trouble admitting it to the guys, while Mikey tries to salvage his marriage. Each subplot is predictable but easy to root for, especially in light of Jason's A-plot, which begins to dominate the proceedings and acts as the plot's stopwatch. When his relationship begins to go south, some manufactured drama ensures that the others will follow suit until a "two months later" transition smoothly shuttles audiences past the truly rough spots towards the agreeable bullshit of a conclusion, where the film falls prey to cloying sentiment--this after 90 minutes of watching Viagra-popping poon-hounds engage in bouts of horizontal pissing and rocking out with their (fake) cocks out.

The schizophrenic tone is problematic from an aesthetic standpoint (this thing can't decide if it's a crass comedy or a drama), and the split also uncomfortably absolves its bro of all his sins. I know, I know--sex romps and romantic comedies operate as fantasy and probably shouldn't be taken so seriously, but "That Awkward Moment" practically begs for it during a ludicrous climax that feels like a parody. If only that were the case; had the film had the balls to skewer bro culture or lovey-dovey junk, it might have found the sense of direction it so sorely lacks.

It's a testament to the combined charisma of the cast that the film stays afloat at all. Efron is tasked with a truly thankless role but owns the hell out of it; having graduated from Disney, he plunges right into the sort of role that you might expect from a child star looking to earn some street cred--full of tactless swagger, he almost charms you into falling for Jason (almost). On the other hand, Poots is so confident and lovely in her own right that you can never quite understand what a smart girl like this is doing falling for a guy like this.

The same is true of Davis, though Teller's character isn't nearly as insufferable as Efron's (it's a very Miles Teller role: nonchalant, sort of smarmy but mostly affable). Jordan is quickly emerging as one of the best actors of his generation and takes on the most intriguing role here as a cuckolded guy trying to figure out how his perfect life got wrecked by the Morris Chestnut wannabe who bedded his wife. He can be both dignified (as evidenced by his ability to elicit the only genuine emotions in the entire movie) and funny (as evidenced by a scene where his character's penis changes color due to a bathroom mishap).

Obviously, the schizoid tone isn't hard to spot, nor is the film's unhealthy portrayal of women and its decision to reward abhorrence by bestowing enlightenment on a character that doesn't earn it. I'd say that I'm just entering a cranky old man phase, but I did find myself laughing way too hard at a sequence featuring Efron attending a party with a giant dildo dangling between his legs.

There probably isn't much hope for me, but if you're a bro suffering from arrested development, this movie's got good news: you can still get the girl as long as you, like, pay attention and listen to her and stuff. Convincing audiences to fall for that redemption makes for the most awkward moment of all.

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originally posted: 02/01/14 17:13:30
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  31-Jan-2014 (R)
  DVD: 13-May-2014

  29-Jan-2014 (15)

  DVD: 13-May-2014

Directed by
  Tom Gormican

Written by
  Tom Gormican

  Zac Efron
  Imogen Poots
  Miles Teller
  Addison Timlin
  Michael B. Jordan
  Jessica Lucas

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