"THAT AWKWARD MOMENT"-- 3 STARS
About midway through the new R-rated sex farce/relationship comedy "That Awkward Moment" starring Zac Efron, "Fruitvale Station" star Michael B. Jordan, and Miles Teller from "The Spectacular Now" that is set to open next week across Chicagoland, one of the trio of horndog young professionals reminds his buddies that they are part of the so-called "selfish generation." It's a quick self-analysis that is undoubtedly true, but is as quickly forgotten and moved on from as a three-minute-old post on a Twitter feed. This movie doesn't deny it, but is "over it" all in the same moment. It is for that root of a reason that, after seeing an advanced screening of this film, I'm almost convinced that half of the wide-ranging movie audience isn't going to "get" this movie.
To one generation, "That Awkward Moment" will be a proliferating continuation of a Millennial youth trend they hate, put on a larger and more superficial stage. They are going to judge these guys as glorified douchebags and disrespectful, even with a bit of romantic transformation taking place. They are going to see their swank Manhattanite digs, trendy rye whiskey, and find them entitled and lucky to have what they have while 90% of 20-somethings in New York City struggle to pay bills in refrigerator box apartments. They are going to call them "hipsters" when they are not anywhere as dumb as that social group. They will wonder why Zac Efron can't go back to "High School Musical" and wonder how the serious Michael B. Jordan can step down from "Fruitvale Station" to something low-brow like this. They will sound old and jealous.
However, to another (and clearly younger) generation, "That Awkward Moment" will be an entertaining film that makes no bones about who and what it's portraying. They will like the chemistry of these three talented young actors and the shenanigans they get themselves in. They will like seeing these guys step out of their comfort zone with profanity, nudity, and hilarity. They will compliment the film for having the balls to call out the similarities and differences within a new, modern landscape of dating and relationships. They will enjoy the irresponsibility and gags that lead to three studs realizing the error of their ways. Most importantly, they'll realize that it's just a movie and not a dramatic mission statement for a new generation of men.
Mark this critic down among the latter generational explanation. I had a blast and so did the previews audience around me with this movie. "The Awkward Moment" is an oasis of fun in a dreary winter cinema landscape. This is one of those rare romantic comedies that can actually appeal to both genders. Set your date night up now. With its wide release coming on January 31st, ladies and gentleman, your Valentine's Day weekend must-see movie has arrived two weeks early. Don't even bother with a watered down "Robocop" or "Endless Love" remake in two weeks. Wait for this one or go ahead and see it early.
Efron, Jordan, and Teller play three college buddies in their mid-to-late-20's living and working their pick-up magic in Manhattan. Efron is Jason, the charming alpha male of the bunch. He's a graphic designer creating book covers for a publishing company, a job he's immensely good at, but not attached to or passionate about. Teller's Daniel is the jokester of the crew and is Jason's stalwart wingman both at the publishing company as a fellow pitchman and at the bars while prowling for the next conquest. The straight arrow of the group is Jordan's Mikey. He's a nailed-down married man and fully-vested doctor that has left the bars behind.
When Mikey finds out his wife Vera (Jessica Lucas of "Cloverfield" and "The Evil Dead") is cheating on him with her divorce lawyer, his world becomes rattled and he leans on his two buddies. Jason and Daniel tell him to forget Vera and get back into the singles game. To strengthen that bro-stance, they make a promise to all stay single for Mikey, meaning just hook-ups and no relationships.
Naturally, just as you expect, all three guys get tangled with women that stir more than just the urge to roll between the sheets. Jason hooks up with an aspiring author named Ellie (Imogen Poots of "28 Weeks Later") that can match his game. Daniel slowly gravitates towards Chelsea (newcomer Mackenzie Davis), the crew's one platonic girlfriend who's a proverbial teammate in their bar scene games. Last but not least, Mikey rekindles a bit of the spark to get back with Vera. To not disappoint the "bros before hos" nature of their pact, none of them tell the others of their burgeoning potential relationships.
The concept may sound familiar, but the setting and comedy feels fresh in "That Awkward Moment." This is not one of those films where all of the funny parts are in the trailer. For as shallow as these three guys appear to be, they all have a lot going on. While it's not on the level of Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Wolf of Wall Street," this is easily the most unfiltered and free Zac Efron has ever been in his short career as a leading man. The guy can hold his own and engage an audience beyond being another set of abs and a pretty face. Michael B. Jordan does lose a little bit as the mild-mannered member of the gang, but I think it's nice to see a guy step out and have fun in an easy kind of role, especially after something as somber as "Fruitvale Station."
The guy that steals the show is Miles Teller. If you've seen his witty and motor-mouthed charm in "21 and Over" and "The Spectacular Now," you will know that this is a part he was born to play. His energy is absolutely contagious. This is a much bigger stage than those two films and he's an absolute riot as the wild card. He's the fluid between the three that gets all of the chemistry going. Together, these three guys are clearly having fun and the result is immensely entertaining for all of us watching. Nevertheless, this is a keeper of a first-time feature from writer/director Tom Gormican. It has its rookie mistakes, hokey romantic contrivances, and still will get judged by half the audience as a possible Millennial atrocity, but I've seen far worse. I look forward to what Gormican can do next. Who knows, we may just look back years from now as this being what "Bachelor Party" was for Tom Hanks for any one of the three lead actors.
It is likely too early to put "That Awkward Moment" among the great R-rated sex comedies of days and generations past, but it's an assertive and solid step for the present day that can join with the ranks of 2012's "Think Like a Man" and, hopefully, the upcoming modern remake of "About Last Night." Too often over the past decade, the sex comedy has been populated by older "manchilds" like Steve Carell, Vince Vaughn, Adam Sandler, and Owen Wilson trying to relive their youthful vigor in films like "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Wedding Crashers" when the best sex comedies are better performed by the real young people out there in their prime. With youth in mind, for me, "That Awkward Moment" might be the best sex comedy I've seen since Josh Hartnett's underrated and under-appreciated "40 Days, 40 Nights" from way back in 2002. That movie has its lovers and detractors just like this one will.
LESSON #1: THE TERM "FILLING OUT A ROSTER" MEANS SOMETHING DIFFERENT THAN YOU THINK-- When I think of "filling out a roster" as a happily married 34-year-old man I either think of fantasy football or what all of the failed Cub managers have tried to do for the entirety of my life as a fan. This film has a bit of its own clever and devious language and this is one of those phrases you have the learn about.
LESSON #2: NOTHING EVER GOOD COMES IN A SENTENCE THAT STARTS WITH "SO..."-- For these three guys, that sentence starter of "So..." is an omen of trouble. That is where this film's title comes from. A sentence that starts that way usually leads to an uncomfortable "are we/aren't we" question from a woman looking for exclusivity and affirmation of a serious relationship, which is something the commitment-phobic Jason and Daniel, in particular, want no part of. That "So..." is there sign to cut that girl loose and get out before things get heavy. Outside of shallow Lotharios like those two, this lesson does have a truism which is not that far off in other sections of real life when a tricky question comes up.
LESSON #3: RELATIONSHIPS IN THE "SELFISH" GENERATION-- The conflict of this film comes when these three guys realize that a relationship isn't something that can be or should be avoided when the right woman comes around. They seen that there's a comfort to being themselves that comes out of a good relationship and a good woman. Their hesitancy leaves a few learning curves before they realize that, in this day and age, a relationship is simply being there for someone when they need you. The romance, the quality time, the sex, the co-habitation, and the shared interest are all gravy and extra compared to the stability of knowing someone is there for you.