Dir/Wri: Tom Gormican • Pro: Scott Aversano, Justin Nappi, Andrew O’Connor, Kevin Turen • DOP: Brandon Trost • ED: Shawn Paper, Greg Tillman • MUS: David Torn • DES: Ethan Tobman • CAST: Zac Efron, Michael B. Jordan, Miles Teller, Imogen Poots
‘So… where is this going?’
This question is what denotes That Awkward Moment in the initial stages of any intimate relationship between a man and a woman – according to our protagonist Jason. This is presumably because he can see exactly what’s coming once the conversation starts, and that he isn’t going to like what follows, which is the desire for a more complex and serious relationship. Ironically, that’s also one of the problems with That Awkward Moment. It doesn’t fully follow through on its initial promises, and where it ends up taking us is to an unsatisfying but somehow unsurprising conclusion.
Following three men in their mid-twenties, Jason (Efron), Daniel (Teller) and Mikey (Jordan), That Awkward Moment is an obvious genre experiment, aiming to combine the gross-out comedy of the bromance film (e.g., Superbad, 21 and Over) with the frank focus on friendship and bonding found in the female coming-of-age story, like Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants or Sex and the City. When Mikey gets divorced, his pals Jason and Daniel make a pact with him that the three will remain single together, maintain only the most casual of relationships with women, and instead focus on their friendship. As might be expected, this arrangement only serves to tempt fate. Unfolding among Daniel’s secret affair with Jason’s ex, Chelsea; Jason’s burgeoning feelings for a former one-night stand, Ellie; and Mikey’s attempts to win back his wife, are a slew of increasingly awkward moments involving various degrees of drunkenness, bodily exposure, and abject shame.
To give credit to first-time writer-director Tom Gormican, it’s clear that he’s trying to do something different with That Awkward Moment, in terms of genre-bending and complexity of character. Unfortunately, the muddled tone of the film doesn’t allow for this to be fully successful. While the moments of awkward humour can be just as effective as some of the film’s emotional or romantic set-pieces, the juxtaposition of both isn’t wholly effective. On paper, the jump from an emotional funeral scene to a frantic attempt at shower sex during a party might seem like a shock of humour, but on-screen, it’s rather unbalanced.
Similarly, Gormican obviously wishes to present his characters as more complex than the average comedy hero, just as in touch with their hearts and minds as with their genitals and base impulses. Yet despite the desire to imbue Jason, Daniel and Mikey with a broad spectrum of wants and needs, there’s something a little too shallow about the characterisation. This may be a problem with the structure, of trying to tell each of their three stories in one film, which is also trying to be two different films – the silly, male-oriented gross-out comedy and the silly, female-oriented romantic comedy. It’s ultimately a bit too ambitious a goal. (Ah, but Gormican’s reach should exceed its grasp, else what’s his next film for?)
It’s also hard to really root for any of the three, despite the best efforts of the young cast – particularly Teller, as Daniel, having wonderfully naturalistic delivery at times – with Jason a selfish ladies’ man, Mikey a workaholic pushover, and Daniel a crass, tactless adolescent. Forcing them to mature and compromise their faults in the name of love is a classic romantic comedy manoeuvre; though the incompatibility of homosocial male friendship with heterosexual love is a problematic message That Awkward Moment runs the risk of communicating with its coupled-up conclusions.
Although a few of the laughs land, particularly if you’re into comedy of social embarrassment (like Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Office), and the frank honesty and intimacy the three leads cultivate and offer each other in conversation is something we should embrace in male protagonists, That Awkward Moment flounders in the in-between of the two genres it attempts to fuse. It’s pretty apt that the best way to describe this mashup is as just a little bit awkward.
15A (See IFCO for details)
That Awkward Moment is released on 31st January 2014