Zac Efron, Michael B Jordan and Miles Teller walk into a bar. Zac Efron is handsome and trendy, a real lady-killer. He looks longingly at a young woman. Although longingly in the way that alpha males in rom-coms do, like she’s a hotdog and he’s the relish, or something bawdy like that. They’re definitely going to have sex later. Michael B Jordan is sensitive and dependable. So this isn’t his punchline. He’s there to show that not every man is a pig or obsessed with sex. Some of us have feelings too, you know? And then Miles Teller says something funny. He’s the funny one. But cute funny.
Not long after that, the actor Morris Chestnut turns up as a lawyer. “Hey, you look like Morris Chestnut!”, someone says. Which is very funny. Especially if you know who Morris Chestnut is. If you don’t, then That Awkward Moment is way smarter than you for about two minutes. But then for its other 90 or so minutes it isn’t, so it balances out in the end.
Except maybe it doesn’t. There’s too much bloody balance, to paraphrase Spinal Tap. That Awkward Moment feels like its intended to appeal to everyone and offend no one. So it ends up saying not much at all. Unless you like American apartments with exposed brickwork. In which case the message is clear – be a young person in a romantic comedy slash drama. You’ll have your own lavish domicile without breaking sweat.
For about half an hour, That Awkward Moment plays like a post-Apatow romantic comedy. People say things like, “Your so-and-so looks like an obscure pop culture reference”. Then the next half hour it tries to be a Zac Efron romantic comedy drama for people who normally wouldn’t go and see a Zac Efron romantic comedy drama. It shows people having sex that’s different to how people have sex in, say, The Lucky Ones. There’s not a slow motion rainfall in sight.
And then, in the midst of that, That Awkward Moment seems like it’s ahead of its own curve. Two of our three rom-com stereotypes are talking about a Hollywood movie-style reconciliation. “You should definitely go do that! It’ll be like a movie!”
It’s here that you sense what could have been. How the film could have turned out if it had a stronger commitment to its cause. And what got it onto the Hollywood Black List a few years back. Which sounds like a bad thing, but it isn’t.
Writer-director Tom Gormican’s script was nominated by very influential studio execs as one of their favourite unproduced screenplays. I haven’t read that original screenplay (originally titled Are We Officially Dating?), but perhaps it played up its own meta rom-com credentials a lot more. A romantic comedy for people who hate romantic comedies, maybe. Although 2009’s (500) Days Of Summer had already been there, done that. Maybe it’s the reason for That Awkward Moment coming out a little diluted. “Be smart like (500) Days, but with more convention please. Because conventional’s popular, right? That’s why it’s the convention.”
So shortly after the film pokes a stick at the big climactic romantic gesture, Gormican can’t help but go there himself and wallow in it. Which is a dual edged sword. If you want us to buy these characters as more than just humdrum caricatures, you need to give them something real to say, and realistic scenarios in which to say them. Otherwise it’s just a really big tease. Like a film entitled That Awkward Moment that doesn’t have any real awkward moments to speak of.
I’m being harsh here, and that’s because I’m the guy who goes into every Zac Efron film wanting it to be good. I’m unashamedly an Efron fan – he’s an actor who has great comic timing, can sell slushy Nicholas Sparks better than anyone, and is likeable in a way that doesn’t mean he’s bland.
That Awkward Moment has moments that feel really genuine – a great post-date reaction by Efron that rings exactly true of how people actually talk in the real world – but they’re fleeting. Too often the film plays it safe and lazy (let’s eat ice cream when we’re upset; women love shoes). And I haven’t even mentioned Imogen Poots, a talented British actress playing bland, idealised love interest. Like so much here, you can’t help but feel her character deserves more attention, and less compromise.
That Awkward Moment is out in UK cinemas on the 29th January.
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