by Adam Riske
That Awkward Moment is romantic comedy that is misogynistic instead of romantic and shockingly mean-spirited instead of funny. Forget being a movie that doesn’t understand dating and relationships; this is a rare movie that doesn’t even understand friendship. Writer-director Tom Gormican should try to make another movie immediately to wash his hands of this mess. If the next one doesn’t work, maybe give up for five years; live a life and come back when you have something worthwhile to say. That Awkward Moment feels like a movie written and directed by the worst 10% of America’s frat brothers.
The main draw of this movie for me was it had a nice cast in a genre I enjoy. Most of the actors endure this movie, while some don’t. The more fortunate the guys are Miles Teller (whose career I’ve unexpectedly become invested in; I might be his biographer one day) who ends up giving a sort of crossroads 21 & Over and The Spectacular Now performance. He is again appealing in a couple of scenes and is great when working off of actress Mackenzie Davis (who at first plays his wing-woman but then secret girlfriend). In the bro scenes, he is close to my worst nightmare but is at least not doing the Vince Vaughn impression he did in 21 & Over. It’s great to see Michael B. Jordan have the chance to be in a movie where he can play a lighter character. Since Jordan is a skilled dramatic actor, he brings more to the table in his scenes than is written. His is the subplot (the failed marriage) that has the most potential, but goes nowhere because the movie is more interested in his horndog friends.
Zac Efron and Imogen Poots do not fare as well. I don’t get Zac Efron. I guess he’s adorable. He seems to be a nice enough person off-screen. I hope he has a happy and healthy life but I think he’s a pretty lousy actor. At best, he’s overmatched by his peers. At worst, he comes off as an empty vessel -- all slick hair and designer clothes. He’s not adept at comedy; he’s mopey when he tries to play sincere and especially repugnant when he’s supposed to be playing a charming asshole. It’s rare that an actor will take me out of a movie with how unexceptional he is and Efron has done it in three movies: Me and Orson Welles, Liberal Arts and now That Awkward Moment. Imogen Poots is not so much bad as she is playing a character that is difficult to sympathize with. Her introductory scene is supposed to make us think she’s an appealing wild card, but she’s really being a huge female word for dog and later in the movie makes some truly stupid and selfish decisions. It’s impossible to get on her side.
The Efron-Poots romance is indicative of a big issue the movie has: the No Strings Attached conundrum, when the B couple is much more appealing than the A couple. In No Strings Attached, it was difficult to get on board with a movie that focused on a hackneyed Natalie Portman-Ashton Kutcher relationship when on the fringes there was an adorable one happening between Jake Johnson and Greta Gerwig. That Awkward Moment pits Zac Efron and Imogen Poots against the pairing of Miles Teller and Mackenzie Davis, who should truly have their own movie. The best scene in the film is one where Teller and Davis are cuddling in bed and he tells her that he is happy with where their relationship is headed and wouldn’t want to go back to something casual. Efron and Poots' best scene involves an "I’m sorry I thought you were a hooker" apology drawing (this actually happens in the movie) where Efron draws himself well and draws Poots like a Roald Dahl sketch of Matilda doodled during a power outage.
The movie thinks that guy pals show each other their dicks, which I’m pretty sure is not a thing and I’ve had at least three friends in my lifetime. It also thinks that male friendships consist of being afraid to tell each other that you’re in a relationship and happy, because that’s gross, am I right? Speaking of gross, there’s the requisite gay-panic-in-a-sex-shop scene. One of the guys won’t go to a girl’s father’s funeral because then she’d get the idea that they are in a relationship. The big Jerry Maguire moment at the end consists of an especially selfish act that the movie confuses as being romantic. Lastly, the movie has moments that I’m pretty sure are racist, such as Michael B. Jordan’s character buying and walking around with a 40 oz. across two scenes and a truly random “Who the fuck is Morris Chestnut?” exchange, which continues “He’s Ricky from Boyz N The Hood.” A white character replies “Oh, I love Ricky” as if that character was a precocious puppy. These privileged assholes think a tragic gang drama is a punchline. In a better movie, you can get away with that. In one this dumb, the joke seems especially misguided. I abhor this screenplay. I’ve always liked that word… “abhor”… so rarely have an opportunity to use it in a sentence.
If you appreciate romantic comedies as I do, watch At Middleton instead. It’s currently on VOD. It’s not perfect and pretty saccharine at times, but there are some lovely moments throughout the movie and the two leads (Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga) make a great screen couple. All a romantic comedy has to do is allow us to enjoy the company of performers we like while being at least a little bit smart and decent. That Awkward Moment robbed me of that despite having more than enough to work with. It’s entertainment betrayal.
Note: That Awkward Moment has an especially bad blooper reel over the end credits. Why does Hollywood think we like these? Here are the bloopers from this review in case you’re interested:
• I spelled "aforementioned" wrong in an earlier draft. HAHHAHAHAHAHAAHAH!
• I also accidentally wrote Imogen Boots because I was thinking of a ‘Poots N’ Boots’ joke. LOL.
• I started typing "40 oz." and realized I had the num lock on. I was all “What’s goin’ on???”