This review appears on Lawrence.com in slightly different form.
As most of the Oscar-nominated movies hang around in theaters hoping to catch filmgoers who are checking off their awards lists, Hollywood’s annual early-year counter-programming has begun. Hoping to fill the “edgy” romcom void a couple of weeks before Valentine’s Day is That Awkward Moment, a movie that’s supposed to appeal to men as much as it is to women.
Unfortunately, it’s another in a long line of comedies that has guys behaving badly and treating girls like crap for the entire film and then lets them off the hook towards the end because that’s the structure of the typical romantic comedy — not because any of it makes any sense.
This phony baloney R-rated comedy stars two actors coming off of career-making 2013 performances—Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now) and Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station)—so my hopes were high. But That Awkward Moment is neither a raunchy laugh riot or a tender heartbreaker. Instead, it’s sandwiched somewhere quite uncomfortably in the middle—where most of the behavior that’s meant to be funny is just plain scuzzy.
The problems start with that staple of the modern romantic comedy—the completely contrived central conceit.
Teller, along with his Manhattan roommate and work buddy Zac Efron, make a pact to keep lots women in their “stable” while never committing to one of them. One-night stands, late-night booty calls, using a wingman—all of these things are encouraged. But if the woman questions where the relationship is headed, that’s their cue to head for the nearest exit.
Of course, the reason for this is so their friend Jordan—recently separated from his wife—won’t feel left out. It’s so they can continue scamming on chicks just like the old days, until he finds someone new that makes him happy. What sensitive guys, right? But, uh oh, each of them already has someone who makes them happy—and they were right under their noses the whole time!
That Awkward Moment—a title that could apply to the 90 percent of the time that its jokes fall flat—has the gall to call itself “A Tom Gormican Film.” It’s the writer/director’s first feature-length effort, so he doesn’t exactly have the cache of say, a Nora Ephron or Cameron Crowe. If this film is any indication, though, we’ll have a steady stream of movies that force likable actors to be jerks while they practice fast-paced comic banter laced inappropriately with unfunny pop-culture references. At least Teller is suited to this style already, but Efron especially seems like he’s just trying to keep up. And when he’s forced to go beyond the faux-clever buddy dialogue and sell some of the “emotional” scenes, Efron simply isn’t up to it. Then again, the story isn’t either.
There isn’t one moment in this movie that feels real. The characters, their motivations, the plot machinations, the forced banter — it’s all contrived. Not only can you see the entire story coming from miles away, there’s a late-in-the-game plot twist that feels desperate and tonally wrong. When the big third-act breakup arrives as expected, the reason for it is so heartless and cruel that you’re hoping the couple in question doesn’t get back together. Anyone that would stick to their guns and treat someone (Imogen Poots) that bad for the sake of a stupid pact like this has probably seen too many of these insipid “romantic comedies.”
And no last-minute speech in front of a crowd could make up for it, especially not one as corny and hollow as the one Efron delivers here.