Although the bromantic comedy That Awkward Moment takes its name from a popular internet catchphrase, one can’t fault the filmmakers for choosing an inappropriate title. It’s certainly awkward, and it does have its moments. For about an hour or so, it’s a solidly and unapologetically misanthropic rom-com piss take from the perspective of the pervy male gaze that old school Neil LaBute fans could get behind. But when the film gives over to cliché and convention almost out of nowhere and it asks for sympathy for its characters, that’s where things go terribly awry.
Mikey (Michael B. Jordan), a young doctor, has just come to the crushing realization that his wife has been cheating on him and she now wants a divorce. He goes running into the comforting arms of his two best bros, book jacket designers and marketing wizards Jason (Zac Efron) and Daniel (Miles Teller). Serial players at heart, Jason and Daniel agree that the three of them should all stay single until Mikey finds a new woman. Mikey DOES find a new woman, but it just so happens to be his ex-wife and he’s embarrassed to tell his buddies they are trying to work things out. So too do his friends, with charming, unapologetic rogue carrying on with a writer (Imogen Poots) he has fallen for but he refuses to commit to, and Daniel finally realizing that he loves his best friend/wing-woman (Mackenzie Davis).
First time feature director and writer Tom Gormican initially does an admirable job of not pulling any punches when it comes to the viewpoints of its sometimes less than likeable leading characters. Jason and Daniel are still stunted frat boys with very little interest in anything other than sex, drinking, video games, and good times. They are equally smooth in their own ways, but Jason has clearly coasted by his entire life on natural wit and good looks, while Daniel has done quite well for himself riding the coat tails of his buddies. Mikey is clearly an adult who’s experiencing his first major life altering trauma, and it’s easy to see why he would want to hang out with his easy going good time buddies. They really aren’t sympathetic, but Gormican does a great job of looking into the facade of what makes them seem so darn charming in the first place. It’s essentially the twentysomething male equivalent of Sex and the City.
And he’s certainly assembled a game cast with plenty of chemistry. Even when the film stops being amusing and starts being awkward, the three leads continue to make it somewhat watchable just by effortlessly playing off of one another. Jordan shows why he’s one of the hottest young actors today, getting the bulk of the emotional beats (again, until the part I will get to in a minute). He’s rapidly approaching the status of “guy who I would watch reading the phone book.” Also, interesting to note is the work of Teller, who has excelled in precisely these kinds of roles that he gets typecast in, but here he’s able to infuse Daniel with an intriguing to think about lack of self-esteem. He’s the clown of the bunch, but he’s kind of a purposefully sad clown.
It should also be noted that the women in the film also do what they can to stand out against the raging male psyche that made this film. Poots gets to have fun as clearly the smarter person in their relationship, and Jessica Lucas manages to make Mikey’s romantically confused ex-wife into something well rounded and sympathetic. The real find here, however, is Davis who blows all of her male counterparts off the screen with a natural grace and charm that almost singlehandedly balances the somewhat uncomfortable sexist streak that’s sadly (and somewhat necessarily by design) driving the film.
But the problem here is Efron’s storyline and how it becomes so outlandishly convenient and icky that it infects everything around it negatively. Efron himself isn’t a bad actor and he’s not doing bad work here. He’s quite believable as a cocksure lothario and the movie probably should have just given him a good arc to work with if they wanted to turn him into a gradually awakening human being that realizes his lifestyle will only lead down a sad and depressing road. But Gormican almost literally pulls out a gun, shoots the movie in the foot, and proceeds to let it bleed out in front of everyone.
Jason’s moment of change comes at the hands of a maddening plot device that requires a character we meet only moments earlier suddenly dying. It’s a character that isn’t around enough to make an impact on an emotional level and is used to forward the story seemingly out of nowhere. It’s what happens when a writer has no clue how to end their film and just comes up with something on the fly regardless of whether or not it makes sense. And it’s an event that should cause Jason to smarten up, but it does the exact opposite, making him even more unlikeable and then trying to force a happy ending where it turns out that he isn’t that bad of a guy almost out of nowhere. It in no way earns the right to redeem Jason, but it’s still just a dash more believable than how this week’s other major release (Jason Reitman’s abjectly abysmal Labor Day) tries to redeem a convicted murderer.
What’s worse is that it’s one of those plot points that forces the rest of the story lines to have similar false epiphanies that will lead to one of those really forced second act conclusions where everyone has to be at the same place at the same time (here a posh Thanksgiving dinner) where everyone has to air their grievances with one another. In these final, awkward moments the film abandons any semblance of realism for contrived Hollywood pap; the kind that reeks of test audience tinkering and not quite being able to find the rest of the film in the editing room. It’s not nearly as awful and abased as most dude-ly comedies and it’s a decent showcase for a talented cast, but it’s still not a well made film.