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Dustin Putman

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That Awkward Moment  (2014)
1 Star
Directed by Tom Gormican.
Cast: Zac Efron, Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Imogen Poots, Mackenzie Davis, Jessica Lucas, Addison Timlin, Josh Pais, Evelina Turen, Karen Ludwig, Joseph Adams, Tina Benko, Lola Glaudini.
2014 – 94 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for sexual content and language throughout).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, January 30, 2014.
A lewd, often crude romantic comedy about sex and relationships amongst a group of best friends in Manhattan, "That Awkward Moment" has been described in early press reports as the male equivalent of "Sex and the City." This is an inaccurate and, for that acclaimed Michael Patrick King series, mildly insulting comparison. Carrie Bradshaw and pals might have been learning about the joys, heartaches and frequent intricacies of love as they went along, but they still were smart ladies with thoughts, ideas and sympathetic viewpoints. The emotionally stunted guys in "That Awkward Moment" have nothing of substance to talk about and only the minimum number of brain cells necessary to physically function in the world. The film they are in—the dismal writing-directing debut of Tom Gormican—is equally moronic, a disingenuous 94-minute eye-roller featuring paper-thin human constructs doing things far beyond the realm of believable human behavior. Why, oh, why do so many studio pics of this ilk have to be so excruciatingly dumbed down? Is it really so difficult to write about people who seem, well, real?

When twenty-something medical resident Mikey (Michael B. Jordan) is told by unfaithful wife Vera (Jessica Lucas) that she wants a divorce, he is understandably distraught. To the alleged rescue are womanizing BFFs Jason (Zac Efron) and Daniel (Miles Teller), hotshot book cover designers who urge him to get back out there on the playing field and enjoy his newfound freedom while he's still young. Jason and Daniel—not exactly the most reliable of partners to women—vow to support Mikey by avoiding any kind of committed relationships. This is well and good, except it coincides with both of them meeting people for whom they start to have deeper feelings. For Jason, it is the vivacious Ellie (Imogen Poots), a colleague in the book publishing world whom he originally mistakes for a hooker. For Daniel, it is formerly platonic friend Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis). As they try to keep these yucky grown-up emotions on the down-low, Mikey secretly rekindles with Vera. Despite sleeping with her again, it may still be too late to save the damage already done to their marriage.

Puerile and insulting, "That Awkward Moment" has been made for no one in mind besides adult males who are permanently stranded at the maturity level of 15-year-olds. The depressed Mikey turns to ice cream and masturbation—both in succession while sitting on the toilet. He yearns to have back his wife—in one of the very few truthful scenes in the movie, he asks Vera, point-blank, what went wrong with them—but is too often written as a weak and needy punchline. Jason and Daniel are another story altogether. The former is a nightmare of a potential mate who thinks nothing of charmingly courting Ellie, taking her out on a date, and ending the evening with a midnight booty call with Alana (Addison Timlin). When someone close to Ellie passes away, he refuses to support her by going to the funeral for the sole reason that he doesn't want her to think they are officially together. The funeral, by the way, is scheduled for Thanksgiving Day so that it can conveniently coincide with the other subplots happening in the third act. And then there's Daniel, who has totally lucked out with the witty, soulful Chelsea, but chooses to string her along by lying to her and claiming he has informed Jason and Mikey about their new romance.

The characters, all of them played by appealing actors, are ruined by crummy writing and forced into idiotic narrative tropes. There is rampant deceit among friends and between sexes, grossly inflated egos on display, and the sort of maddeningly avoidable misunderstandings that only appear to happen in bad cinematic romances. Zac Efron (2012's "The Lucky One") commits fully to his role, but said role of Jason also happens to be the most repugnant of all the protagonists. As the talkative, wily Daniel, Miles Teller (2013's "The Spectacular Now") is gifted with an easy comedic sensibility offset by a welcome layer of levity—things that he valiantly tries to bring to this part in spite of a desperate script that does him and his co-stars no favors. Michael B. Jordan, so devastating in 2013's "Fruitvale Station," has the distinction of being the only truly likable fellow in the main cast. Naturally, he's also given the least amount of screen time and is frequently shoved to the sidelines. The would-be tight camaraderie between these three young men is overplayed and unctuous; they think nothing of barging in on each other in the bathroom, share the misfortunates of having to urinate while hopped up on Viagra, and talk about having sex together if they were gay while prowling the dildo section of an adult shop.

As their central love interests, Imogen Poots (2011's "Fright Night") and Mackenzie Davis (2012's "Smashed") are a great deal warmer than the boys, but their Ellie and Chelsea are primarily used as props to service the story. Exhibiting extraordinary patience—too much patience—as they wait for Jason and Daniel to grow up, they come off as mistreated doormats. As Vera, Jessica Lucas (2013's "Evil Dead") is stuck with the restrictive part of a cheating, unhappy spouse. There is the suggestion that she and Mikey got married too young and whatever they once had has drifted apart, but writer-director Tom Gormican affords their relationship only a handful of scenes and keeps things on the surface, avoiding complexity altogether. Almost extensively without fail, all six of the main characters have no extracurricular interests (outside of maybe video games) and converse about nothing other than what strictly pertains to moving the narrative forward. When the exception arises and Jason and Ellie get a tour of a spacious brownstone while posing as wealthy prospective buyers, it culminates in Jason's criminal theft of a house key to a private gated section of Gramercy Park.

There is a none-too-faint scent of misogyny wafting through the slick, synthetic, upwardly mobile environment of "That Awkward Moment," a boys-will-be-boys adage that consistently makes a joke out of their loutish ways before letting Jason and Mikey off the hook from their dishonorable actions. Neither of them—but particularly leader-of-the-pack Jason—deserve partners as earnest and put-together as Ellie and Chelsea. When, during the climax, Jason usurps an author event which Ellie is hosting and publicly recites to her, verbatim, a long exchange they had four months earlier when they met, it is intended to be a grand romantic gesture. Instead, it feels like yet another selfish, immature, manipulative ploy for attention. In lieu of rooting for Ellie to fall into his arms, one wishes she'd run in the opposite direction and find someone who isn't just an a-hole with a hot bod. "That Awkward Moment" offers zero insight into dating and trades tangible honesty for achingly unfunny raunch and superficial sincerity. The awkward moment in question is the sinking realization from viewers that they are in the company of a big, fat dud.
© 2014 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman