So it’s Valentine’s Day (or a couple of weeks before) and he wants to watch a gross-out buddy movie but she would love to see a romantic comedy. Why not go to one that combines the worst aspects of both?
To its credit, Tom Gormican’s “That Awkward Moment” does invert one of Hollywood’s more tiresome clichés — the one where the distraught woman consoles herself by eating a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. In this movie, it’s the guy who does that. Cinema doesn’t get much more groundbreaking.
The unfortunate ice cream-eating male is Mikey (Michael B. Jordan), a doctor whose wife, a college sweetheart, has confessed to cheating on him. His freewheeling buddies Jason (Zac Efron) and Daniel (Miles Teller) see this as an opportunity to reunite the old night-prowling, love-them-and-leave wolf pack. They make a pact that none of them will ever get in a relationship again.
Given the characters involved, this does not offer much of a challenge. Each of the trio has some trademark, quirky thing that recurs like a leitmotif. Jason is the conceited, obnoxious, pseudo-hip one. Daniel, who works with Jason designing awful covers for terrible-sounding books, well, he’s more or less the same, except he’s got this thing where he stinks up the bathroom whenever he drops by Jason’s apartment. Every time — classic Daniel. And Mikey is the straight man, who punctuates scenes by saying, “You idiots!”
How ironic, then, that the cynical singles Jason and Daniel find themselves the first ones tempted to cop out of the deal. Daniel’s just-friends arrangement with Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis) heats up. And, try as he might, Jason can’t help falling for Ellie (Imogen Poots), who responds in kind — because how can any woman resist a guy who thinks she’s a hooker after their first date, or who shows up at a fancy party and meets her parents sporting a foot-long dildo hanging out of his fly. (“Oh, it’s that kind of dress-up,” he says. Duh. Classic Jason.) As for Mikey, he and his estranged wife are having second thoughts.
Juggling three plotlines, though, proves problematic for first-time writer-director Gormican. The parallel editing gets a little perfunctory, if not chaotic, as if he were using a script-writing app with a shuffle function. As for the dialogue, although the characters talk really fast, swear a lot, and overlap their lines, what they’re saying isn’t very funny or authentic. It’s as if David Mamet collaborated on writing an episode of “Two and a Half Men.”
However, a serious lesson underlies the zaniness. A disappointed Ellie sums it up best. “Relationships,” she says, “mean being there when someone needs you.” I must say the standards for true romance are not what they used to be, and relationships mean not taking your significant other to dumb movies like this.Peter Keough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.