[31 January 2014]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Men are pigs. Men are jerks. Men are just little boys in grown up clothes. Men are commitment-phobic dicks. Men are thoughtless, careless, and crude. Men belch. Men fart. Men have to be dragged kicking and screaming into even the most superficial of relationships and, once they are in, they cry like little babies when the partner they supposedly love discovers what chauvinistic caveman Neanderthals they really are and abandons them to their dirty socks, unmade beds, and landfill level bachelor pads. No matter the reality, no need to apply the truth to such scenarios, the man—or put a better way, the MOVIE version of a man—falls into either one of three categories: loser, lame brain or lothario. Decent guys are set aside for future consideration (and best friend/comic relief) while the Blutos and Brutuses are bandied about like eager shuttlecocks on an all-gal badminton team.
Thus we have the genre contrivances that make up most of That Awkward Moment‘s purpose. A hard-R raunchfest that barely raises an eyebrow, this lunk-headed look at aging frat rats in (and out of) love is like an extended episode of the Little Rascals minus the overt racism and the desire to be funny. Indeed, when Spanky and the Gang (or better still, the Three Stooges) declared their independence from the opposite sex and became certified he-men woman haters, their low IQ reasoning made more sense than the drooling stupidity of the trio of bros presented here. Apparently, first time filmmaker Tom Gormican believes that all he has to do is give his actors a premise, guide them through a series of salacious or silly or scatological set pieces, and serve it all up in a racy RomCom setting, and all will be well. Instead, all is awkward and, for the most part, just plain awful.
Jason (Zac Efron), Daniel (Miles Teller), and Mikey (Michael B. Jordan) are buddies from way back. The latter is a doctor and has just been dumped by his adulterous wife (Jessica Lucas). The other two are book-jacket designers and tend to play the field instead of settling down and deciding on the right romantic partnership. After the break-up, all three make a vow to only enjoy one night stands, to simply see women as “friends with benefit”. Everyone is apparently happy with such an arrangement until Jason discovers Ellie (Imogene Poots) and starts falling head over heels. Something similar happens with Daniel and his longtime platonic gal pal Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis). Then Mikey starts seeing his ex-wife again. Before you know it, everyone is trying to hide their interpersonal entanglements from the other less they break the vow of the bro.
There are many crimes committed in the name of cinema during That Awkward Moment‘s meandering running time. Efron is seen shirtless more than Matthew McConaughey at Burning Man, Teller’s mouth moves faster than his upward career arc, and Jordan discusses his “discolored” penis so often you’d swear it was the main subject of the movie. The women are nothing more than placeholders, the level heads who’ve got the goofball number of their otherwise okay male mates while the interaction between the genders is so generic and cliched that we’re left wondering if there is anything really genre’s already overdone bag of tricks. But perhaps the biggest sin That Awkward Moment owns is the lack of laughs. Had Gormican found the Hangover/Bridesmaids level of best bud humor he was hoping for here, we could forgive the material’s redundancy. Instead, we’re left watching three guys try to figure their lives out while treading territory made funnier by Judd Apatow and Todd Phillips.
It’s a problem that plagues all post-modern Romantic Comedies, even ones that manage to overcome their inherent mediocrity to say something salvageable about the human condition. By beginning with a gimmick and not a complete set of characters, the genre has to fudge its fun. Jokes become forced and situations no longer arrive organically. In fact, it’s safe to say that the characters who populate these films never watch what their peers are up to on the silver screen. If they did, they wouldn’t walk into a costume party dressed inappropriately or say a series of stupid things within earshot of someone they should know was standing mere inches away. With That Awkward Moment, it’s all there in understanding girlfriends and defiant dick jokes.
In this new millennium, we’ve regressed. Gone are the days when onscreen couples could discuss their fears and fascinations without turning it all into a triple entendre. Instead of modernizing the genre, films like That Awkward Moment hurdle it back into the sour Stone Age where these ‘dudes’ exist. We are supposed to sympathize with their plight, to see their desire to stay single as a badge of honor against the horde of whores who constantly agree to a single night shack-up. But wasn’t this all part of plan to get Mikey back into the game? What if the good doctor had never lost his spouse, would this group still feel the same about monogamy? If it’s all a put-on, then why not take it to insane extremes. After all, you want to channel the borderline gross-outs of the hard-R comedies that have come before, why not take it all the way?
The answer is obvious. That Awkward Moment is as confused and evasive as its leads. It’s not really a movie about relationships but the idea of relationships. It’s not a movie about people like this but the idea of people like this. As with any first time filmmaker, feeling their way through the process from script development to casting to editing, there’s a desire to stay superficial, to offer up just enough to look like you know what you’re doing vs. illustrating your obvious shortcomings. In this case, That Awkward Moment needed a lot more depth and a lot less dong. Decades ago, the Romantic Comedy centered around real sentiments, not shtick. Sadly, in a relatively short time, it’s become nothing but a dumping ground for dumb.