Film Review: Awkward storytelling is sort-of rom-com's downfall

You want to know what's an awkward moment? Running into writer/director Tom Gormican the day after this review runs. Getting introduced to lead actress Imogen Poots and giggling uncontrollably at her name. Realizing mid-review that there isn't much to say about a film with a limp plot and stiff characters.

None of these is, of course, the awkward moment referred to in the title of Gormican's new sort-of-romantic sort-of-comedy. The moment under scrutiny is the one — to quote the film — “in every dating relationship when you have to decide 'So where is this going?'“

The native courtship rituals of millennials — the group in question — are mysterious to some of us and likely to remain so. “That Awkward Moment” could be a documentary, for all I know. But I sure hope it isn't.

The film's point of view cleaves to the male characters, because (after all) this is a Hollywood movie and that's one of the rules. We meet three longtime best buddies: Jason (Zac Efron), a.k.a. the Cute One, and Daniel (Miles Teller), a.k.a. the Goofy One, are graphic designers. Mikey (Michael B. Jordan), a.k.a. the Black One, is a doctor. When Mikey's wife Vera (Jessica Lucas) has an affair, he crashes at Jason's place, where Daniel appears to be already settled.

Daniel and Jason bully the grieving Mikey to reenter the lifestyle that he grew out of with marriage, and that the two of them still indulge. This involves a lot of hanging out in bars and dance clubs, cruising for hot women, several of whom Jason juggles simultaneously. Sooner or later, those lucky enough to make it through several weeks of Jason's frankly fulsome attentions spring that question, the one that creates that awkward moment.

Gormican asks us to invest a certain amount of empathy for Jason and Daniel, even though they really are a couple of [insert body part that doubles as a dismissive characterization here]. They both display a minor skill for snappy patter, but it's strictly a tool for stringing women along. And their humor is so similar that the filmmaker must have patterned both on himself, distinguishable only by the Cute/Goofy divide.

We are not surprised when Jason hits it off with Ellie (Imogen Poots), not because they seem like a good fit — they don't — but because she's the top-billed actress and he's the top-billed actor. It's a little more surprising when Daniel and Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis) hook up, simply because they've been hanging out like brother and sister or friends without benefits; and because Chelsea's character has been so sloppily established. How does she fit in? Where did she come from? Did she have a prior affair with Jason (as is briefly hinted)?

But the biggest problem is that Jason is such a [insert another derogatory term]. His behavior toward Ellie marks him as such a moron and/or jerk that Ellie's inevitable Final Festival of Forgiveness is hard to buy. She deserves better...and so does the audience.


ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on "FilmWeek" on KPCC-FM (89.3).

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