Legend has it that after 9/11, a fan rolled down his window and shouted to Bruce Springsteen, “we need you now,” inspiring the now classic album The Rising. After seeing writer-director Tom Gormican’s unbearably boring That Awkward Moment, I am inspired to shout the same thing, should I by chance encounter Whit Stillman, who has made some great films about young professional New Yorkers finding their place.
That Awkward Moment is about that, and a lot less. Running 94 minutes, it feels like a three-hour mini-series where music and montage save what must have been jumbled scenes that just did not work in the edit room. I’m glad these characters laugh at each other’s jokes, but no one else in the theater was laughing with them. My screening, at a New Jersey mall multiplex filled with teenage girls, was met with silence, save for a few gags.
Ripe with so many problems it’s strange that the new management of Focus Features (bringing the film over from Film District) didn’t just cut their losses and quietly release on VOD. It’s three leads (Zac Efron, Miles Teller, and Michael B. Jordan) try so hard to make a terrible script work, but when it’s lacking engaging, realistic characters and substance you can only get so far. The dialogue — made up mostly of quick one-liners, some likely improvised — wear out their welcome quick, while providing zero background information on these guys, apart from the fact that they went to college together.
Efron’s Jason, our leading male, has effectively no backstory; he’s a graphic designer with a sweet-ass sitcom-style apartment that perhaps was just born into being a womanizing douche-bro. An actor as smart as Efron, who makes his producing debut on the film no less, ought to have some more fun with this; maybe with a better script and stronger director he could have. Teller, again, is typecast as Daniel, that obnoxious sidekick pal that comes over to your apartment to take a crap (a running joke that, shockingly, doesn’t work). Jordan plays Mikey, a young doctor whose wife is seeking a divorce; she’s a lawyer, he’s a doctor, and they marry because as he says “they check each other’s boxes.”
Enter the love interests, also thin on backstory. Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis) is Daniel’s wingman until after a few drinks they end up kissing and one thing leads to another. Jason picks up Ellie (Imogen Poots) one night at a bar and splits when he things she might be a lady of the evening, only to find she’s a young author with an MFA in creative writing and very likely a trust fund kid. The share an awfully bland courtship.
The love interests, of course, is a set up for a series of clichés that might be sustainable for 30 minutes in a sitcom form, yet the film drags out with endless conversations in bars, coffee shops, on streets, and in bedrooms and living rooms, all of which are witless and useless. And when those don’t work, Gormican relies on the kinds of montages fueled by music that tell us exactly what to think. It’s a bad sign when early on I sensed the music on the film’s soundtrack existed solely to add energy to sequences that otherwise were otherwise mundane on every level. Hitting every note imaginable with no subtly, his screenplay is on par with a third rate Freddie Prinze Jr.-led romantic comedy circa 2000.
Dull, narcissistic and disconnected from humanity, That Awkward Moment contains not an ounce of real humanity or organic character development. How this film was greenlit with a half-baked script is beyond me; my guess is all of the one-liners on paper kept readers engaged. Perhaps it was only once produced and assembled it was realized just how shallow and stupid this whole affair is.
That Awkward Moment is now in wide release.