Monday, February 3, 2014

THAT AWKWARD MOMENT Is That Awkward ... Nope, Won't Even Go There


- I think that there's a lot of still-unexplored territory that movies have yet to cover when it comes to modern dating. But THAT AWKWARD MOMENT is not the film that's going to be any sort of definitive statement on modern romance. It's too bad, because this is a rom-com that's got a talented cast, and a willingness to mix gross-out humor with genuine sweetness - Judd Apatow-style - that's admirable. But very little in the film rings true. From the dude-talk that sounds like no conversation I've ever heard between guys, to the of-the-moment social media references that seem shoehorned in and gimmicky, the film feels less like an authentic look at Millennials and more like what a quorum of focus group execs think Millennials might talk and act like.

The film centers around the dating lives of three twenty-something friends in NYC - Jason (Zac Effron), Daniel (Miles Teller), and Mikey (Michael B. Jordan). Jason is a serial non-monogamist with commitment issues, who may have finally met the girl (Imogen Poots) who could convince him to settle down. Daniel is the goofy, would-be player who begins to view his female best-friend (Mackenzie Davis) as something more. Mikey, meanwhile, considers getting back with his cheating ex, blaming himself for her actions.

I have no real opinion of Zac Effron (I'm sure some of you reading this do), but going in, I did have a sense that Teller and Jordan are two of the best and brightest up-and-coming young actors in Hollywood today. Teller really showed some promise in this past summer's Spectacular Now, and Jordan absolutely wowed me in last year's should-have-been-Oscar-nominated Fruitvale Station. And those two help elevate this film beyond what it might have been otherwise. I also really dug it-girl of the moment Poots. She's got charisma and likability to spare, and she worked for me as the kind of girl that Effron's Jason would drop everything to be with.

But some talented and charismatic actors can't save a movie that's saddled with a rambling, unfocused, and just not-that-funny script. Part of the problem is that the movie has only the vaguest ideas of what it's about, and of what it wants to be. There's a very loose, overarching premise here - that the three guys have all mutually agreed to stay single and non-committed (even as each inevitably falls for a girl who they can't stay away from). But the stay-single pact seems to be there just because it is, apparently, obligatory for all movies of this type since American Pie to be centered around a pact. Once we know the pact exists, it's barely referred to again. And that same looseness permeates the entire film. Even though I commended it for its willingness to blend gross-out gags with more heartfelt stuff, I also wish that the blending was more seamless. As it is, the movie is tonally pretty all-over-the-place - and the transitions from serious to silly can be a bit jarring.

Case in point: when a key character's father dies three quarters of the way through the film, it's not particularly emotional or sad - just weird. It comes out of nowhere, and the major character beat is not how sad it is that the father died, but instead, how Effron's character can't decide how awkward it would or wouldn't be to go to the funeral. And all of this is presented in a fairly tone-dead manner. The movie doesn't realize how callous it seems in that moment (that oh-so awkward moment - yeah, I went there). And it doesn't seem to realize a lot of things ...

Like the fact that, despite being played by likable actors, the main characters here - who we're supposed to root for and empathize with - come off as chauvinistic d-bags (even by typical bro-standards).

Like the fact that the characters are at once presented as regular-guy every-men, yet also come off as privileged, whiny, entitled guys for whom dating and romance comes *way* too easily. Clearly, there's something wrong when Effron's model-bedding Don Juan - whose main problem is that he isn't sure if he should become a one-woman-man with the stunning Imogen Poots - is also portrayed as just a regular everyday bro, dudes.

Like the fact that the movie presents things like, you know, death, with all the sentimentality of a brick wall - yet treats us to sappy voiceover narration from Effron.

Like the fact that Poots feels too good for Effron's character, and Davis too good for Teller's. Their major compatibility test is that both characters exist and are attractive.

Guys like John Hughes, Harold Ramis, and Judd Apatow have been able to make these sorts of movies work because while their movies had models and prom queens, their sympathies always lay with the underdogs. The guys and gals who are funny, who we genuinely root for, who all of us can, in some way, relate to. To mix CW aesthetics with would-be Apatowian humor and heart is not the greatest of combos, and it dooms THAT AWKWARD MOMENT to blandness, and leaves it with an offputting sense of calculated coldness.

My Grade: C-

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