‘That Awkward Moment’ Review
Last week saw the release of Vanessa Hudgens' brave dramatic turn in 'Gimme Shelter.' This week, her 'High School Musical' co-star Zac Efron tries his hand at R-rated comedy with the rom-com for dudes and by dudes, 'That Awkward Moment.' So, has he made his next step from child star to accomplished adult actor as powerfully as she did? In a word: no.
First-time director Tom Gormican helms his buzzed-about screenplay that centers on three friends looking for fun while avoiding feelings in New York City's singles scene. Efron stars as Jason, a book cover designer with a nonsensically huge Manhattan apartment, a roster of casual hook-up partners and a deep devotion to his best friends from college, Daniel (Miles Teller) and Mikey (Michael B. Jordan). When looming divorce leaves Mikey heartbroken, Jason and Daniel see it as a chance to relive their carefree college days when sex was plentiful and girlfriends were for chumps. So they make a pact (or maybe it's a bet, the movie can't decide) to avoid romantic relationships at all cost... or until each meets a woman who inspires him to hide their budding romance from his bros.
There's a good concept at the center of 'That Awkward Moment': a movie about guys growing up and realizing that girlfriends can be partners instead of distractions from their friends. However, Gormican's script is emotionally tone deaf and stuffed with characters that are painfully vapid. To their credit, the central trio of Efron, Teller and Jordan are clearly committed to making this comedy work. They give the feature an earnest and vibrant energy. Each gamely offers up eye candy by showing some skin. But the baffling script goes off the rails in the second act, and even their collective charm can't save it.
Efron's an engaging screen presence, and his flirtations with co-star Imogen Poots will likely set hearts a flutter. But ultimately, Jason is just too big a jerk to get invested in. We could rattle off a list of ways he seems to be not only a terrible boyfriend but also a terrible person, but they all essentially boil down to him being mind-numbingly selfish. Then, instead of showing how he's grown, his final grand romantic gesture just hammers the point home that he thinks of himself first and foremost over everything and everyone else. This makes Poots' character Ellie -- for all her bohemian appeal, supposed smarts and bright smiles -- completely confounding. Why would she want this guy? Yes, he looks like Zac Efron, but this is his only redeeming quality.
Following 'The Spectacular Now,' Teller gives another winsome performance that relies heavily on charm and a sense of spontaneity mixed with a bit of vulnerability. But his romantic plot is hurt by the way Gormican plops in his love interest Chelsea as if the audience already knows who she is. Clearly the guys all know her, and she initially acts as Daniel's wingman -- but how did they get here? Who is she?!
Mackenzie Davis proves a perfect scene partner for Teller, matching his smirks and offering a snarky wit. But her character feels unmoored without a clear link to the movie's protagonists. Overall, the female characters aren't a real consideration in the story. They only exist to fulfill the needs and whims of the male characters, be it sex, companionship or a catalyst to force them to grow up. Really, they are plot contrivances, not characters. Poots and Davis are wasted in their roles, but they aren't alone.
While Teller and Efron are given slapstick and frantic funny setups, Jordan is relegated to the lackluster role of sadsack/straight man. This is meant to be his comedy debut, but he is regretably given very little to do aside from casting scornful looks or sad-eyed ones as his co-stars, who get most of the good gags. It's a misuse of his talents, but also wastes the narrative's most interesting character, who did everything right (got a good education, a good job and picked a smart, successful wife) and still failed at marriage.
All in all, 'This Awkward Moment' was a let down. Its script had earned enough praise that it landed Gormican a directing deal and a pretty promising cast. Yet its story is a mess, cluttered with poorly formed characters and an ending that is more infuriating than aspirational. It's not a total loss, especially if you are currently crushing on any if its stars. There is a warmth to this misguided comedy. Some of its gags, both physical and verbal, are pretty funny. But Gormican's script lacks insight while his direction lacks focus, so 'That Award Moment' has no momentum or depth. In the end, it feels forced, and really there's no better word for it than "awkward."