“So…” The foundation of That Awkward Moment’s title could just as easily be the beginning of our review. It refers to the moment when the question “so… where is this going?”, or some variation therein, is asked. For Jason (Zac Efron), that’s the moment to bail out, lest he become emotionally attached to any of the women he keeps on his horny speed dial. For us, it’s answered in the first five seconds of the film, as Jason sits freezing in a park and whisks us back in time via voiceover. That Awkward Moment isn’t designed to surprise – although in a way it does, because the promising, youthful cast should really have had more sense than to sign on to a script this dry and uncomfortable. Our “So…” question is more why is this going.
Jason’s best friends – and, it seems, only friends, a peculiar situation the film only addresses when it needs something to wound Jason – are Daniel (Miles Teller), his partner at the publishing firm where they design book covers, and Mikey (Michael B. Jordan), a doctor who married out of college and is given the crushing news that his wife Vera (Jessica Lucas) has been having an affair and wants a divorce. In an act of bro solidarity, Jason and Daniel vow to join their devastated friend in a year of being single.
Within days, of course, Daniel’s platonic friendship with his wing woman Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis) turns sexual, and Jason meets Ellie (Imogen Poots), a bright, effervescent writer who he has an instant rapport with. When he lets her into the “den of testosterone” to hang with his friends, they know it’s not Jason’s usual fling, but he holds steadfast to his vow – not knowing that Daniel and Chelsea are getting serious, and that Vera and Mikey might be on the road to recovering their relationship.
The dynamic between Daniel and Chelsea might be the film’s most disappointing, if only for the vague promise squandered. Vain hopes that a platonic friendship between two young adults might be maintained as such, but after a few brief scenes establishing that connection, the script forces them into a relationship shift so awkward that Daniel literally has no answer to Chelsea’s question about why he’s turned up at her apartment in the middle of the night. Davis, a smart, sharp comedienne who impressed in recent indies Smashed and Breathe In, thankfully keeps her character alert and caustic throughout, and Teller is a jovial presence himself, but their relationship never really makes emotional sense.
It becomes apparent why when Daniel’s big moment is crashed – quite literally – because Jason needs his to stand alone as the grand climax of the film. Efron, Teller and Jordan have been promoting the film as a trio, but the emotional bond between them, which sparks well enough on screen, is negated by the pay checks shoving Efron front and centre. Jason is a lothario, but Efron seems confident that his handsome face negates any potential smarm; his meeting with Ellie comes as he ‘rescues’ her from an insistent admirer with some spontaneous role play.
They’re perfect for each other, we’re meant to instantly sigh, and for a while, their easy rapport works well, but the illogical commitment to his bro code means Jason soon ends up a heartless idiot, because writer-director Tom Gormican uses a wholly inappropriate plot point to separate the couple. Poots, like Davis, does her best to keep her character bright and engaging, but is weighed down by tiresome moments like angrily confronting Jason through a veiled conversation in a business meeting, and ultimately doesn’t have much of a character to play.
That Awkward Moment isn’t a character comedy, even though it seems that it’s being sold that way. Even Daniel and Mikey are reduced to rather sketchy supporting characters, sidelined in what should be a third their story. Once the film gives up trying to make the audience laugh – which happens about half way through – and becomes mired in overdramatic dilemmas that don’t exist for realistic people, it becomes worthless, because there isn’t any drama to sell, and even proven actors like Jordan and Poots can’t make much out of it. It’s more a series of awkward moments when such a talented cast end up in such dull filmmaking.