Tone Deaf "That Awkward Moment" Unworthy Of Cast

“That Awkward Moment” is perfectly titled – as in that awkward moment when your romantic comedy isn’t at all romantic and often blithely unfunny. That awkward moment when your film pivots from mocking genre clichés to going all in on those same clichés – to disastrous, but laughable effect. That awkward moment when your ostensible buddy comedy turns into something outright chauvinistic, simultaneously condemning sexism while making case that men are supposed to act like assholes when it comes to relationships.

Yet, for all of its faults, I can’t accuse “That Awkward Moment” of being uninteresting, as I’ve never seen anything quite like it before. It stars a trio of genuinely likable leading men – Zac Efron (Jason), Miles Teller (Daniel), and Michael B. Jordan (Mikey) – making its late-game unpleasantness all the more extraordinary. These three twenty-something best friends begin the film in various stages of relationship-related duress, and end it in much the same way – except at the cost of relaying some nasty, deep-seated character flaws.

Teller (“The Spectacular Now”) provides his usual amount of snarky charm in a relatively lightweight role, Jordan (“Fruitvale Station”) gets very little to do with a bland “marriage on the rocks” subplot, and Efron (“High School Musical), of all people, is saddled with the pic’s emotional heavy lifting. The seriously slack jawed narrative isn’t enough to keep its trio of talented but inexperienced actors afloat, and the aforementioned histrionics of the third act only underscore the film’s shortcomings.

But, ironically, it’s that same third act that makes the picture at all memorable. Writer-director Tom Gormican pulls so hard on the deus ex machina lever as to bring the whole thing to a screeching halt – the plot point in question involves Efron and his character’s love interest, played by Imogen Poots – and the film never recovers. But do we want it to recover? The film is a wash at that point anyway, so it’s almost preferable that it takes such a sharp turn from forgettable to “Oh my God, is this actually happening?”

Since the film obviously fancies itself a John Hughes homage – complete with copious amounts of synth-pop – it’s not a major surprise that its leading men turn out to be very imperfect people. But it’s the way in which the characters go about their awfulness that’s likely to turn heads, and more problematically, that Gormican wants us to get behind them once again by the denouement.

But all of this begs the question – what’s the point? I have no idea what Gormican and company were trying to do here, but I suppose that so much of the film is so baffling is an accomplishment in itself. Eyes will roll, groans will be heard, and uncomfortable laughs will be had. If the intent of “That Awkward Moment” was to entertain on any level at any cost, it’s a job well done.

That’s not to say it’s anything anyone wants it to be. It’s short on intentional humor, low on drama, and even lower on relatability, but, insane narrative revelations be damned, its stars make it out just fine. They even remain sort of likable throughout, a miracle of miracles. It’s not a film that anyone will ever need to watch twice, but for the surprise factor alone, “That Awkward Moment” is strangely worthwhile. Kind of. Almost. Maybe. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ out of ★★★★★ (Not So Good)

Release Date: January 31, 2014
Studio: Focus Features
Director: Tom Gormican
Screenwriter: Tom Gormican
Starring: Zac Efron, Michael B. Jordan, Miles Teller, Imogen Poots, Mackenzie Davis, Jessica Lucas
MPAA Rating: R (for sexual content and language throughout)