Zac Efron has been trying to leave that squeaky clean “High School Musical” image for years now, and while it’s easy to see why he thought something like “That Awkward Moment” would do the trick, it’s unfortunate that this particular movie misses the mark completely. Sure, it’s sexist in an oblivious way, but Tom Gormican’s directorial debut’s worst offense may be that it’s just not very funny or entertaining. It’s a “High School Musical” level rom com masked behind gratuitous sex and profanity, and wastes the talents of its trio of otherwise very talented and charming leading men, comprised of Efron, Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan.
The story is a simple and predictable one. When Mikey (Jordan) is unceremoniously dumped by his wife (Jessica Lucas), his two best friends Daniel and Jason (Teller and Efron), in order to get him back on the singles scene, force him into a pact to all stay single and only engage in no-strings-attached sex with a “roster” of like-minded females. Well, you can guess what happens next. Jason meets Ellie (Imogen Poots), Daniel starts feeling something for his best girl friend/wingman Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis) and Mikey is secretly trying to work things out with his ex.
While they all protest and attempt to prove they are not falling for these women – mostly by continuing to sleep with other women (oy), there’s only one inevitable ending here. It’s the getting there that’s the problem. Despite rapid fire banter, the film moves slowly and without much tension. Perhaps it’s because the jokes just aren’t that funny, perhaps it’s because at some point you realize these girls are way too good for these guys, but it’s mostly a chore watching this trio try to grow up, with very little laughter elicited despite repeated attempts at raucous comedy.
The actors do their best to compensate for the stilted dialogue and poor pacing, with Teller, as always, stealing scenes and earning the most laughs. Teller always gives off an air of lived-in casualness, particularly fitting for his character here, and Daniel’s relationship with Chelsea is the one you root for the most. Jordan seems the most affected and stiff, not altogether comfortable at the comedy thing, granted it is his first time at it, and movies like “Fruitvale Station” have proven he’s got the dramatic chops. Luckily, his character Mikey is also the most serious of the bunch, and perhaps even the most sympathetic.
The cast also has great chemistry, which amounts to about the highlight of the film. The boys act and feel like they could actually be best friends, and the respective romantic pairings – Efron and Poots, Jordan and Lucas and particularly Teller and Davis – all make believable couples, though not all of them feel like they should end up together, whether the script calls for it or not. These guys make some pretty douchey moves in the name of staying single, even when they say they don’t want to, but their partners are inevitably one grand gesture apology away from forgiving all of it. Again, sexism in that oblivious sort of way.
“That Awkward Moment” is marred by “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” level simplistic readings of male-female interaction, and is a tame and predictable rom com cliche despite attempts to mask it with “Hangover” style male-centric antics. It’s a shame the great cast is let down by script and directing issues, but luckily Teller and Jordan have both found increasing success elsewhere. As for Efron, well, let’s hope “Neighbors” will be better.