Friday, January 31, 2014

That Awkward Moment: That sinking feeling

That Awkward Moment (2014) • View trailer 
1.5 stars. Rating: R, for relentless profanity and sexual candor, and brief nudity

By Derrick Bang

If writer/director Tom Gormican’s loathsome little flick reflects Generation Y dating practices to even the slightest degree, I sure feel sorry for Millennial women.

Jason (Zac Efron) blows his first encounter with Ellie (Imogen Poots) by incorrectly
assuming that she's a hooker (merely one of this inept film's many ham-fisted plot
complications). Although she quite reasonably takes offense at this weird
accusation, she nonetheless agrees to a second date. Yeah, right...
The misleading publicity push notwithstanding, Gormican’s film isn’t the slightest bit funny; it’s merely vulgar and morally repugnant. And that Gormican thinks it should be funny is even worse.

That Awkward Moment is precisely the sort of cinematic bomb one expects to be dropped during the January doldrums.

Gormican has no previous credits, save as one of the countless co-producers on last year’s Movie 43, which sank without a trace. I can’t imagine how he secured financing for this misogynistic twaddle, nor do I wish to meet the studio producer(s) who somehow saw merit in his script.

On one level, this clumsy mess is merely another entry in the arrested-adolescent-males-behaving-badly sub-genre typified by high-profile comedies such as the Hangover series, last summer’s This Is the End and any Will Ferrell project. But Gormican’s film isn’t even good enough to be that bad; his dialogue is strictly from hunger, and he has a terrible sense of pacing and narrative flow.

One must be wary of any movie that opens as its main character questions his current “predicament” via a profanity-laced voiceover; it’s a sure sign of very bad things to come ... and Gormican quickly lives down to worst expectations.

That Awkward Moment is particularly abhorrent, however, because unlike the other comedies cited above — which have nothing beyond crude slapstick nonsense on their agendas — Gormican apparently wishes to extract a gentler romantic comedy, complete with hearts-and-flowers conclusion, from a storyline that can’t begin to support such an outcome.

Rewarding this narrative’s three losers for their reprehensible behavior isn’t merely artistically suspect; it’s insulting to every woman of any age who foolishly wanders into this flick.

By day, Jason (Zac Efron) and Daniel (Miles Teller) work as art designers at an upscale New York publishing house. When best friend Mikey (Michael B. Jordan) gets hit by a divorce request from his wife, Vera (Jessica Lucas), Jason and Daniel propose a pact: that all three of them will party hearty as they apparently did in “the old days,” cutting a swath through Manhattan’s women, and resolutely avoiding anything with the faintest whiff of actual romantic entanglement or — worse yet — a “relationship.”

Jason’s “sage” view of relationships — the notion around which this film revolves — is that every hook-up, if allowed to gestate, eventually reaches a point where the woman starts an awkward question with the word so, followed by a long pause, as in “So ... where are we going here?” And that’s the moment, Jason tells us in voiceover, when he always abandons ship.

Such a nice guy. One you’d definitely bring home to meet the folks.

Actually, Jason is a self-absorbed jerk: a walking poster child for the narcissistic Facebook generation. Daniel is even worse: a vulgar, self-absorbed jerk, never one to miss an opportunity to discuss repugnant bodily functions. It’s amazing how many times Gormican attempts to milk humor from the same crude joke about Daniel’s habit of fouling the air in Jason’s apartment.

Ironically, Mikey seems to be a pretty decent guy who doesn’t deserve the fate Vera hands him via the lawyer with whom she has been sleeping on the side. Mikey therefore gives little more than lip service to Jason and Daniel’s swinging singles philosophy, and instead does his best to patch things up with his wife. Secretly, without telling his friends.

Not that they’re any more faithful to the supposed pact. Jason can’t help being charmed by fledgling author and alluring sophisticate Ellie (Imogen Poots), although he keeps putting his foot in his mouth and driving her away. Daniel, in turn, finds that he has grown genuinely fond of Chelsea (Jessica Lucas), their gang’s unofficial fourth member, who serves as “wing-woman” during bar-hopping excursions, by orchestrating introductions to hot babes whom Daniel then scoops up and takes home.

And if things don’t work out on a given evening, Chelsea is just as comfortable going home with Daniel herself, for a night of no-strings sex. Similarly, when all else fails for Jason, he can call Alana (Addison Timlin) at any hour, and she’ll drop everything and hustle over to his place, for similarly uncomplicated sex.

Wow. Could we imagine a more cynical depiction of young women?

To be clear, the booty calls themselves are neither new nor objectionable per se; baby boomers certainly made free love a casual sport during the swinging ’60s. But the flower-power generation had a kinder, gentler and mutually respectful approach to their recreational sex; the young men here view women as interchangeable and disposable, and the women seem content to accept this treatment as their lot in life.

Which is nothing short of nauseating.

We spend the entire film hoping that Ellie and Chelsea will come to their senses, kick these selfish, egotistical buffoons in the crotch, and move on with their own lives. But no; Gormican has a different destination in mind, so he drags us along, kicking and screaming all the way.

Efron’s still seeking a career to follow his star-making turn in the three High School Musical entries; I respect his work ethic and dogged determination, but his taste leaves much to be desired. Mawkish melodramas such as Charlie St. Cloud and The Lucky One haven’t done him any favors, so he apparently decided to try profanity, potty humor and a bit of daring butt-baring ... to equally limp effect.

That’s a shame, because Efron certainly has sparkle to spare; not even Gormican, despite his best efforts, can squelch it completely. Alas, every time we get a hint that a halfway decent soul might exist within Jason’s crass and socially inept exterior — such as during an endearing “first date” with Ellie, and the purloining of an extra-special key — Gormican serves up another dollop of boorish behavior and spoils the moment.

Poots also has plenty of charm; she’ll perhaps be remembered as the plucky heroine in 2011’s remake of Fright Night. Here, her Ellie displays playful wariness and plenty of intelligence; she also seems a savvy judge of character ... which makes her willingness to tolerate Jason rather bewildering.

Chelsea is little more than a doormat, and poor Mackenzie Davis can’t do anything to save this character. She’s obviously Gormican’s warped notion of what a gal pal should be: a female accessory that only a male chauvinist pig could concoct.

Teller displayed solid acting chops in last year’s adaptation of The Spectacular Now, but little of that talent emerges here. Daniel is less a character and more a one-liner delivery machine. Worse yet, Teller and Lucas share no chemistry, whereas Efron and Poots at least have that going for them.

Jordan does his best to turn Mikey into a credible human being, and — in fairness — his attempts to win Vera back are emotionally persuasive. Frankly, Jordan seems to be operating in a much better movie: one I’d prefer to what we’ve got here.

Ultimately, That Awkward Moment’s best quality is its brevity; at 94 minutes, the pain is over fairly quickly. May it deservedly vanish from cinematic history just as rapidly.

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