That Awkward Moment fits in that awkward place between a wry, witty New York sitcom and a tired, tidy romantic comedy. For every moment of vibrant energy of single life in the big city that writer/director Tom Gormican nails, another scene of hackneyed romantic gooeyness comes along to dull the film’s comedic edge.
Fortunately for Gormican, this inconsistent relationship comedy gets the best efforts of an ace cast of twenty-somethings, including potent work from Sundance darlings Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan and the most assured performance of Zac Efron’s career. The stellar cast gives Gormican’s debut script both the charm and weight it lacks on the page.
The film focuses on three best friends. Mikey, a doctor played by Michael B. Jordan, finds out his wife, Vera (Jessica Lucas), is cheating on him with a much older divorce attorney – and that attorney is currently preparing the papers to separate Mikey from Vera. In solidarity with his newfound bachelordom, pals Jason (Zac Efron) and Daniel (Miles Teller) make a pledge to agree to remain single with Mikey for as long as they can.
That promise seems like a guarantee for Jason, who keeps a mental roster of his flings and has no interest in committing beyond casual sex. Jason has had enough of “So… ” moments – that juncture when a girl confronts him about where things are going in their relationship, beginning this talk with an exasperated “So…” He just wants to have fun and is weary of commitment. Daniel goes along with this bachelor code too, since many sour attempts at picking up women at Manhattan bars seem destined to continue.
However, the friends start drifting apart from hanging out, playing video games and gorging on scotch and ice cream at Jason’s apartment and begin pursuing relationships. Jason, who works as a graphic designer at a publishing house with Daniel, is attracted to novelist Ellie (Imogen Poots). The issue is that she had a one night stand with Jason, which he ditched after he suspected she was a prostitute. Daniel harbors feelings for sarcastic friend Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis), the same girl working as his “wingman” to help him pick up luscious blondes at bars. Meanwhile, Mikey is still committed to Vera and hopes that she will get over her fixation on the attorney and come back to him.
In his first feature as a writer and director, Gormican’s best asset is the casting. He assembled a fine young ensemble – a cast of actors in their mid-twenties playing people in their mid-twenties – and the dialogue, filled with culture references both arcane and fresh, crackles with energy.
Gormican captures the essence of these characters going through their quarter-life crisis as they try to decide whether to float toward the promiscuous, freewheeling early twenties side or to take a deep breath and commit to a maturity along the lines of people nearing 30. That Awkward Moment will resonate well with audiences born in the late eighties and early nineties, who may find the foibles of the leading men and women not just amusing, but truthful to their experience.
The film moves at a brisk pace, maneuvering between three different romantic storylines while only under-serving one. Michael B. Jordan’s Mikey gets the short shrift. By far, he gets the least screen time of the three male characters, which is a shame, since Mikey’s discovery of his wife’s infidelity is the catalyst for the drama in the story. Jordan, who has proved a powerful presence on screens big (Fruitvale Station) and small (Friday Night Lights, The Wire), is wasted in a character arc that undervalues his potential as a comedic and dramatic actor. We hardly get to see him go through the struggle of wading back into the dating waters or any conflicted emotions of getting back together with Vera.
Otherwise, Efron and Teller provide good company and share terrific chemistry, ribbing off each other to see who can be the most obnoxious. While they are cocksure in the roles, the young actors are not smug and their easy charm makes their characters both likeable and flawed. (As the closing credits show, Teller has quite the prowess for sharp, if crude improvisation, his comic knack bringing the film its heaviest laughs.)
However, while Daniel’s storyline gradually shows his transformation from buffoonish but romantically desperate comic relief to one wholly invested in the comfort of a relationship, Jason’s shift from one weary of commitment to full-fledged romantic is sudden. Meanwhile, the love interests get similar character trajectories to their male object of affection, with Poots and Davis holding their own against Efron and Teller, while Lucas being just as under-served as Jordan.
Though the film can be genuinely funny at times, the comedy does rely on a few too many familiar tropes of the romantic comedy genre, from the mistaken identity of Jason’s love interest to a corny proclamation of love at the end (at a location the script telegraphs far in advance). When Daniel tells Jason to win Ellie’s heart and to “Do it like the movies… like Jerry Maguire,” one wishes Gormican would have restrained himself from inserting corny proclamations of love at the end that do recall the eye-rolling “You had me at hello” moment from Cameron Crowe’s comedy classic.
Ultimately, the film works best when it is a messy examination of the tug between a casual sex life and committed love life, with flawed but engaging characters who are undecided about the path they want to go down. That Awkward Moment falters, quite awkwardly, when it tidies up its plot strands easily by the closing reel. However, the sharp performances enliven Gormican’s first feature, helping it transcend its sitcom-y pretensions with wit and charm to spare.
That Awkward Moment's ace ensemble of twenty-something actors has charm and strong chemistry to spare, enlivening Tom Gormican’s inconsistent directorial debut.