That Awkward Moment

Director: Tom Gormican
Cast: Zac Efron, Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan
Length: 94 minutes
Country: USA

Tom Gormican’s That Awkward Moment is a comedy of legitimate pre-release calibre. The script featured on the Blacklist in 2010 (when it was entitled Are We Officially Dating?) and the credits are filled out by some of the most appealing young stars clambering up the Hollywood ladder. Early trailers had a pleasant, zippy sensibility, and as the months rolled by, I was convinced the picture might represent one of the few oases of quality that irregularly litter late winter. If I’d embraced That Awkward Moment as a twisted psychological thriller with time-travelling elements (think Psycho meets Looper), then those early expectations might have been satisfied; after all, Gormican’s movie functions pretty effectively as the chronicle of three hapless sociopaths extracted from the 1950s (their grasp of humour and gender politics underline that decade as a point of origin). Whilst I would never presume to instruct an artist on his true intentions, I strongly suspect this wasn’t Gormican’s primary vision, and he is in actual fact trying to peddle off That Awkward Moment as another entry in the industry’s expanding bromantic repertoire. If that is the case, I will be praying for his soul.

When Mikey’s (Michael B. Jordan) wife leaves him, he and his buddies Jason (Zac Efron) and Daniel (Miles Teller) decide to make a pact to stay single for the foreseeable future. For womanising Jason it’s easy, he’s spent his life humping and dumping; dodging the “so”, that moment in every relationship where one party challenges the other about long-term commitment. Immature Daniel is initially onside, although he unwittingly begins to fall for friend Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis) and Mikey is secretly committed to repairing his failed marriage. Eventually even Jason finds the lure of love beckoning, as sassy hook-up Ellie (Imogen Poots) begins to represent a dateable alternative. The boys parade around under a veneer of singleton ecstasy – but deep down -they begin to suspect casual sex isn’t enough.

It’s unsurprising that this is Gormican’s directorial debut (although he does possess a producing credit on Movie 43, huzzah!), the New York presented feels totally unlived in, and the relationships which fuel his drama are alarmingly inert. The three poster boys are expected to support nothing other than questionable male patter, but the romantic angles are diabolically constructed, devoid of charm or sustained cause for being. There are various reasons for this (Jordan’s struggling marriage is simply underserviced whilst Efron and Poots display zero chemistry), but they all lead to the same dull, depressing aura of audience ambivalence. At no point does Gormican succeed in eliciting anything resembling a credible emotional beat – That Awkward Moment is driven by one dimensional narrative necessities, enduring genre clichés and uneven bursts of grotty comedy. If it doesn’t sound like a winning formula, it’s because it isn’t.

That Awkward Moment isn’t sweet, amusing or insightful, but what’s more it encourages the viewership to feel dirty.

I thought guys did more than objectify women, defecate and imbibe coffee or beer, but then perhaps Tom Gormican comes from a different world? I wouldn’t particularly care to visit his. The film physically exists in an array of repetitive spaces (interchangeable work/living environments and a single, incredibly garishly lit nightspot) giving That Awkward Moment an insufficient scope for depicting full lives, robbing it of the fizz its script openly begs for. There’s no stamp of authorship in the feature’s appearance, which only causes the script’s deficiencies to thud harder. The sexual politics range from misguidedly gross to pathetically unfunny, a repeated gag about somebody’s potential profession (“Hooker Signs”) acting as a tragically apt summation of the film’s entire comic agenda. It treats women poorly, but what’s more displays the ladies reacting favourably to said contempt. The early actions of Poots’ otherwise steely Ellie and the unjustifiably forgiving behaviour of Davis’ Chelsea are sad to behold.

What of the film’s leading knights? I have soft-spots for Efron, Jordan and Teller (the latter two having done commendable work over the past 12 months) but not one commits fully here. I’m willing to let Jordan off on the basis that the entire enterprise treats him like an extraneous afterthought, but both Teller and Efron have explaining to do. Teller occasionally fires off an improvised line that elicits a soft snigger, but otherwise he’s just playing a Crayola incarnation of his character from “The Spectacular Now”. It’s a performance that sporadically evidences energy, but it is unapologetically without nuance.  Efron on the other hand is painfully boring, a shame as Gormican hangs most of the film on his shoulders. It doesn’t help that his character is a selfish shit, but the actor’s performance is stilted and superficial. Even if he had been playing the antagonist (the only position this toxic man-child deserves to inhabit), his contribution would remain banal.

That Awkward Moment isn’t sweet, amusing or insightful, but what’s more it encourages the viewership to feel dirty.  Gormican’s perception of contemporary romance is broad and worrisome, but his understanding of dramatic screenwriting and articulate mirth is probably rusted beyond repair. The film’s stars deserve to recover, but it might be better if this writer/director called it quits, or at least channelled his pangs into the niche misogynistic time travelling serial-killer subgenre. He name checks Jerry Maguire at one point, but what’s actually presented is closer to Dude, Where’s my Rohypnol?.

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