If you tried to classify That Awkward Moment into a genre, you’d probably end up with the conclusion that this is a romantic comedy, albeit one of the sort Judd Apatow’s had his hand in (a-la-40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, or Superbad). And not that That Awkward Moment is pushing any genre boundaries – it’s not – but that would end up a pretty poor description of what you’d actually find in this movie. You see, while That Awkward Moment purports to be a sexed-up, R-rated romantic comedy, it left out most of the comedy and pretty much all the relationship development that might make audiences care about the characters.
Let’s start with the cast: Zac Efron, Miles Teller, and Michael B. Jordan play three ambivalently mid- to late-20s buddies living in New York, and before I get into any details about their actual performances, let’s acknowledge that their collective casting in the movie feels unexpected for a couple reasons. The first of these is a decidedly positive surprise in that Hollywood actually cast a bunch of 26-year-old actors as a bunch of maybe 26-year-olds. They look and act like guys who are actually that age, which is great. The weird part of it is they all can and recently have played younger. Teller was a high school student in The Spectacular Now and graduated to college with Whiplash, which just won this year’s Sundance. Efron is of course best known for the High School Musical series, admittedly made a while ago now, but is headed back to college himself when Neighbors premiers at SXSW later this year. As for Jordan, he was an age appropriate character in Fruitvale Station, but played a high schooler just two years ago in Chronicle.
None of that should matter, necessarily, and if you haven’t seen any of those movies, maybe it doesn’t to you. But it certainly can get in the way when we’re meant to believe Jordan is a doctor and both Efron and Teller are hotshot graphic designers, particularly when their collective behavior outside of work is decidedly juvenile.
So what about the performances? Well they’re…passable, which is pretty well the mantra for this film on any sort of technical level. It’s unobtrusive, unoffensive, and unaffecting. Jordan is clearly the best actor of the bunch, doing the most with what the script gives him as his character, Mikey, deals with his wife’s infidelity. Teller and Efron are there, but it’s almost impossible to evaluate any of this trio because there just isn’t much there for them to do.
The plot gets kicking with Mikey’s wife revealing that she’s cheated on him, so Mikey moves in with Jason (Efron), and both Jason and their friend Daniel (Teller) vow to help Mikey get over his wife’s infidelity by helping him live as they do – playing fast and loose with the ladies, being careful not to get tied down. Eventually the three vow to stay single together, ostensibly to help Mikey in his grief. Of course, both Jason and Daniel develop affinities for particular young women about the time all this goes down.
And this is where things get really problematic, starting with the fact that upon hearing Mikey’s wife suddenly revealed that she’s having an affair and wants a divorce from what Mikey though was a happy relationship EARLIER THAT DAY, Jason and Daniel’s idea of consolation is to take him out drinking and try to land him a hook up. Because of course, what’s better than free and easy sex? Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Although all three male characters get some significant screen time, the movie is really given to Jason. The pic opens with a really pretty obnoxious frame scene an voiceover of Jason (which it briefly returns to only once, at the end of the movie), and his budding romance with Ellie (Imogen Poots) is the most developed of the three plotlines (one belonging to each of the men). And this is really a shame, because it’s by far the least interesting of the three. Mikey has the psychological fallout from not only his wife’s infidelity but also his attempts to reconcile and questions about why she left him. Daniel’s relationship is with whom I take to be a longtime friend of the trio. (There is almost no backstory on who this girl, Chelsea, played by Mackenzie Davis, is or what she means to any of the guys before it starts being a big deal that Daniel and Chelsea are hooking up – with nothing that provoked their initial romantic encounter, I might add.) Both of these relationships have the potential to be vastly more entertaining than Jason meets girl, Jason likes girl, Jason tries to overcome his former habits to keep girl, but they’re never explored on anything more than a superficial level. Daniel, for example, just turns up at Chelsea’s apartment one night and they kiss, leading to a string of hook-ups, leading to Daniel professing his love. We never see anything that suggests a lead up to this change in their relationship, nor do we ever see them together out of bed, so we can’t see if their relationship really is more than just a hook-up.
That might be the best summary for this movie – superficiality. We’re meant to believe that Jason, Daniel, and Mikey are friends. We’re meant to believe that they each fall head over heels for these girls who, especially in Jason’s and Daniel’s cases, are somehow different from the assortment of bimbos they intentionally keep just close enough to grab for a tumble. But there’s nothing in the movie, or at least very little, that actually shows this happening. Mikey never confronts his feelings. We never have any sense of “Why now?” for Daniel and Chelsea. The attempts at both character and plot arcs feel perfunctory the entire film, lacking even reasonable excuses to retread the plot elements of mediocre rom-coms gone by.
You may notice I have gone this far without talking about the humor in this “rom-COM.” That’s because there is, unfortunately, very little. There are about two somewhat clever jokes which are run out just well enough and just infrequently enough that they only start feeling old by the very end of the movie, but the rest of the film suffers badly from a combination of lack of comedy and poor execution. Like the plot, That Awkward Moment treads near enough to good material that you can see it, but fails to capitalize. That’s not to say the characters are annoying, exactly. They aren’t deadpanning bad jokes so much as they’re just…there…and likeable enough that you don’t actively want them to go away.
The Verdict: 2 out of 5
For the jokes that are in there, the proximity to some plot and character elements which might have been interesting, and the lack of any true screw-ups on the technical side of things, this movie avoids the lowest score, but that doesn’t mean there’s much to love here. That Awkward Moment an unoriginal stroll through a young adult rom-com, a superficial film that doesn’t get you to feel all the things it supposedly depicting. But because hardly any scene is actively bad, it’s just hard to muster any more vitriol at That Awkward Moment than to brush it off into the ether from whence it came.