Whereas Marc Webb’s (500) Days of Summer prided itself on being that rare romantic comedy for sensitive men, Tom Gormican’s That Awkward Moment apparently aspires to offer the same for emotionally stunted man-children. Here, entitled Lothario Jason (Zac Efron), snide sidekick Daniel (Miles Teller) and sad sack third wheel Mikey (Michael B. Jordan) never tire of discussing their dicks and speculating about, oh, the places those phalluses might go. Their banter frequently demonstrates a level of sophistication and maturity that’s typically only found in reprehensible teen sex comedies like The Virginity Hit.
As we’re introduced to Jason, an accompanying voiceover tries to lend the character depth that can’t otherwise be conveyed by Efron’s vacant baby blues. He wastes little time explaining that the titular awkward moment arrives when a casual fuck buddy has the audacity to enquire, “So … where is this going?” That said, these instances don’t seem particularly uncomfortable for Jason as they simply serve as his cue to respectfully show the lady in question the door. It seems there’s always plenty more where that came from (namely, the lone Lower East Side watering hole he trolls).
Jason’s apathy extends to his job as a publisher’s in-house graphic designer. Disengaged from his assignments and dismissive of his ineffectual boss, he nevertheless charms female clients with his off-the-cuff presentations. Of course, such soliloquies in the key of Draper only feel genuinely persuasive if they have the writing to back them up. Unfortunately, writer-director Gormican’s clunky dialogue constantly registers as smug and unjustifiably impressed with itself.
This proves all the more aggravating as the supporting players all hang on Jason and Daniel’s every supposedly clever word, particularly when these Viagra-addled predators are on the prowl. Daniel cajoles his inexplicably smitten gal pal Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis) into helping him lure women. (How she might possibly benefit from this inequitable arrangement is never addressed.) Meanwhile, Jason talks his way into Ellie’s (Imogen Poots) bed courtesy of alcohol-fueled repartee that’ll leave The Thin Man’s William Powell and Myrna Loy spinning in their respective graves.
While not short on dick jokes (including a somewhat inspired sight gag involving Jason and Daniel planking toilets in order to coax urine out of their pharmaceutically augmented members), That Awkward Moment is preciously short on balls. After offering some enticing evidence that Ellie might just prove to be Jason’s libidinal equal, Gormican moves quickly to quell any concerns that she might pose a threat to his ego. We’re assured that her bedside resembles a Family Planning aisle because she never has a chance to use all of those condoms.
Consequently, Ellie and Chelsea—who’s managed to coerce Daniel into sleeping with her—provide thoroughly insulting portraits of women without a hint of agency who are willing to endure any indignity while waiting for the louts in their lives to admit that they’re in relationships. In turn, Gormican’s misogynistic film comes to resemble a feature-length adaptation of the phrase, “I could never stay mad at you.” (Although, in fairness, who wouldn’t be enchanted if Jason arrived at a fancy dress occasion with a dildo dangling out of his pants?)
Similarly, one could argue that Jordan was treated with more dignity by the BART security guards in Fruitvale Station than he is by Gormican’s script, which largely reduces him to an emasculated lightning rod for abuse. The material also proves ill-suited for Teller, who bristles with too much natural intensity and nervous energy to convince as a hapless, unmotivated dimwit. Here’s hoping that his turn in Sundance-winner Whiplash finally vaults him to a stage in his career where he’s above dreck like this.
Efron is the only player who seems particularly comfortable here. Carrying himself with a movie star’s swagger, he brings an unsettling callousness to Jason. The character’s complete lack of empathy results in behavior that borders on monstrous, culminating in an act so unconscionable that even the most permissive viewers will likely find their sympathy exhausted. When coupled with his manifesto-spewing narration, it makes American Psycho comparisons only a slight stretch.
And, yet, Gormican operates under the assumption that we’re still fully invested in these commitment-phobes, waiting on tenterhooks to see if they can wrap their heads around the Monogamy for Dummies life lessons being imparted. Talk about awkward.
Director: Tom Gormican
Writer: Tom Gormican
Starring: Zac Efron, Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Imogen Poots, Mackenzie Davis
Release Date: Jan. 31, 2014