Likable actors finally playing their age stay light on their feet, creating a comedy that is anything but an “awkward moment.”
Doesn’t it seem like just yesterday that Zac Efron, Michael B. Jordan, and Miles Teller were playing teenagers? Okay, not exactly yesterday, but bear with me here.
Zac Efron last played a teenager in 2009’s 17 Again, but Jordan and Teller played high schoolers in Chronicle (2012) and The Spectacular Now (2013) respectively. That being said, all three actors are 26 now, so it took me a solid 15 minutes or so to adjust to their portrayals of late-20s New Yorkers in That Awkward Moment.
Once I settled in though, I was actually pleasantly surprised by the ease with which the three leads handled themselves. Although the bawdy laughs expected from an R-rated comedy are present and in abundant supply, there are elements of emotional maturity that are handled pretty well. Mark That Awkward Moment down as the first 2014 movie thus far that delivers precisely what it hopes to, that is to say, a comedy with heart that entertains throughout.
After Mikey (Jordan) discovers that his wife (yes, I said wife, I told you these guys are getting old!) has been cheating and asks for a divorce, his buddies from college Jason (Efron) and Daniel (Teller) make a pact of solidarity to help their friend get through the difficult time. They all take a vow to remain single and to avoid “that awkward moment,” namely the point in a relationship where one party asks the other “So, where is this going?” The agreement becomes strained when all three guys discover that promising relationships are brewing for them, and decide to keep the developments hidden from each other.
Efron’s character meets and begins spending time with aspiring author/book promoter Ellie (Imogen Poots). The two have fairly believable chemistry throughout the movie, and this relationship is far and away the one that first-time director/writer Tom Gormican spends the most time with. As such, the amount of heartfelt yet still witty material begins to slowly dwindle as the plot progresses, culminating in a John Hughes-esque climax that ultimately falls a little flat. That being said, Efron’s deadpan humor is very effective, and distances him somewhat from his checkered past as a (usually) shirtless romantic actor.
Jordan does his best throughout the movie to repair his broken marriage with Vera (Jessica Lucas). Although it is his plight that provides the initial conflict, not too much screen time is actually devoted to this relationship. The decision to treat it as such is not surprising, as Mikey is by far the most morally attuned of the three protagonists, so he offers little in terms of actual character development. In the hands of a less capable actor, the character of Mikey could easily have been lost in the shuffle, but Michael B. Jordan has seemingly endless reserves of charm, and making a role like this pop is one of many reasons why Jordan is one of the brightest young talents in Hollywood today.
But the real star of That Awkward Moment is Miles Teller, and the development of his relationship with Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis). The two James Ponsoldt vets (Teller: The Spectacular Now and Davis: Smashed) employed the Ponsoldt method of crafting extraordinarily relateable romance to great effect here. Their chemistry is pretty darn near perfect, and from the start, these are the characters we root for. Love him or hate him, this is Teller’s most likable character yet.
For a first time director and writer, Gormican does a very good job of balancing the raunchy laughs with the emotional punch required to elevate it above the mediocre comedies cinemas are inundated with each year. When he wants laughs, the actors deliver with some truly hilarious gags. Ones that stand out to me is their Viagra-induced need to “get horizontal” on the toilet, as well as some effective ad-libbing about the look of Jordan’s orange-stained private parts after an incident with tanning lotion. When the inevitable early third-act problems afflict the protagonists, Gormican decides to take some risks and devises some pretty heady scenarios for our charcters to deal with. As I stated earlier, the execution of these emotional subplots is far from flawless, but the effort was clearly evident, so I cannot fault the film for trying and almost succeeding.
There wasn’t a time when watching That Awkward Moment that I wasn’t entertained. I know this is a bit of a tangent, but even the soundtrack was phenomenal, with all the indie/hipster 80s sound-a-likes any young adult could crave. For Jordan and Teller coming off their more dramatic appearances in Fruitvale Station and The Spectacular Now, it was enjoyable indeed to see them take a break of sorts and make a fun comedy like this. Nobody is going to remember That Awkward Moment as a “great” comedy, but it nonetheless succeeded at making me laugh and keeping a smile on my face, and that’s all I (or anyone really) need to have in a January movie.
RYAN’s RATING: 3 Stars out of 4