With Zac Efron, Michael B. Jordan, Miles Teller, Imogen Poots, Mackenzie Davis. Written and directed by Tom Gormican. Rated R for sexual content and language throughout. 94 minutes.
Perhaps the Judd Apatow moment in romantic comedy has finally passed. For the last several years romantic comedies were either “chick flicks” or movies that had to add all sorts of disgusting bodily function humor which was presumed to be the only thing that would make guys watch. There’s still a bit of that in THAT AWKWARD MOMENT, but it’s low-key and they don’t revel in it.
Jason (Zac Efron) is a twenty-something who works with his college buddy Daniel (Miles Teller) designing book covers. A third friend, Mikey (Michael B. Jordan), is a doctor. Jason is a “player” who doesn’t want to get pinned-down in a relationship and instead wants to have a “roster” of playmates he can cycle through. Daniel allows their one female friend Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis) to act as his “wingman” in picking up women, but he has a secret yen for her. Mikey’s wife Vera (Jessica Lucas) has just dumped him, but he’s not quite ready to follow Jason and Daniel back into the single life.
In all three stories the guy has some growing up to do, and since it’s told from their viewpoints, we follow their journeys. Daniel gets involved with Chelsea but doesn’t want to tell their friends. Mikey is seeing Vera but doesn’t want to tell his friends. As for Jason, he has fallen for someone and he does tell his friends… he just doesn’t want to admit that he’s developing feelings for her.
Jason meets Ellie (Imogen Poots) in a bar where he rescues her from a hopelessly clumsy pickup. They share the same sensibilities and end up spending the night together when Jason makes a discovery. It turns into a very post-modern “meet cute,” in which Jason will have to apologize to her to win her over, and not for the last time. He’s conflicted between really wanting to make an effort for her while not wanting to admit to himself as to why he is doing it.
The title refers to the supposedly awkward moment when one of a couple–the woman according to the movie–asks where the relationship is going. The real awkwardness turns out to be the three guys having to finally grow up and have mature relationships with the women in their lives. It doesn’t mean becoming boring and stodgy. In one scene we meet Ellie’s parents right after Jason has shown up at a party hilarious and inappropriately dressed. After they get over the shock, Jason and her father share a moment where the older man approves of Jason’s humor and gets in a dig of his own. It’s okay to have fun. It’s no longer okay to be irresponsible. That makes “That Awkward Moment” a lesson for the twenty-somethings who are presumably the target audience. Older viewers may wonder what the fuss is about and much older viewers may start thinking of Maurice Chevalier singing, “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore.”
Writer/director Tom Gormican, making his debut here, juggles the stories with ease and makes good use of his New York locations. This doesn’t look like every other romantic comedy set in New York. He also isn’t afraid of the occasional non sequitur, with some jokes being throwaways and others paying off much later. A few are offered without any explanation at all including a hilarious cameo during the closing credits that you either get or you don’t.
As romantic comedies go, this one isn’t destined to be remembered as a classic. More important, it’s not going to be remembered as a huge embarrassment either. There are some nice performances from the young cast–Mackenzie Davis is a standout–and it gets the job done without making you feel like you need to take a shower afterwards.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.