That Awkward Moment feels like a film that’s made to appeal to everyone, but ends up being so vague that it likely won’t truly resonate with anyone. It’s not funny often enough to be a Hangover-style comedic romp, but it’s also not serious enough to be an insightful drama. This leaves That Awkward Moment in the awkward position of being a reasonably likeable film that’s so thinly plotted that it nearly dissipates into nothingness by the end.
The movie follows three friends, womanizing bro-clones Jason (Zac Efron) and Daniel (Miles Teller), and the more serious, married Mikey (Michael B. Jordan). When Mikey’s seemingly perfect marriage suddenly falls apart, his friends enthusiastically introduce him to their world of emotionally vacant and intricately planned hookups. The friends also make a pact to stay single in solidarity with Mikey because, well, the movie needs some semblance of a premise to pull it through its 90-minute runtime, right?
Of course, things quickly become complicated as Jason and Daniel almost immediately find the girls of their dreams in the forms of Ellie (Imogen Poots) and Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis). Meanwhile, Mikey is trying to rekindle things with his estranged wife, Vera (Jessica Lucas). But, of course, the guys can’t tell each other about any of this because of that pesky pact.
As is the case in most rom-coms (which, no matter how you want to dress it up, is exactly what That Awkward Moment is), things take a turn for the serious in the third act as people’s feelings get hurt and various grand gestures are made in response. It’s not as though the first hour is anything really subversive, but some of the banter is funny, a few rom-com tropes are inverted, and the film’s characters at least somewhat resemble fully-formed people. By the end of the film, you can practically recite the cliché dialogue along with the characters. Even more annoying is the fact that the once independent and spunky characters of Ellie and Chelsea are reduced to objects of desire for the protagonists to track down, really doing a disservice to the interesting actresses who portray them.
The guys get a little bit more of a satisfying arc to their stories, but the material still doesn’t give the movie’s talented main trio much to do. Teller has excelled in the role of a whip-smart slacker in movies like 21 and Over and The Spectacular Now, and while he has the pattering, sarcastic sparring down pat, he basically plays the same character again here. And while Jordan is charismatic and has some good comic timing, I still can’t help but feel like this is a disappointing step down for him in light of his work in quality projects like Friday Night Lights, Chronicle, and last year’s powerful Fruitvale Station.
It’s a shame, because there’s a kernel of something interesting here in the way the movie examines its characters’ unwillingness to be emotionally available. For example, there’s actually something quite sad about Jason’s mantra-like affirmations of his bachelor lifestyle and the workman-like approach he takes to his romantic trysts. But just as first-time writer and director Tom Gormican starts to wade into this more introspective territory, he pulls back, forgoing a darker undercurrent in favour of the usual rom-com plot points. With a screenplay more willing to take risks, we could have gotten a biting black comedy. Instead, That Awkward Moment largely offers more of the usual fluff. MM½