More than awkward: ‘That Awkward Moment’

More than awkward:  ‘That Awkward Moment’

Two rising stars get played by the studio system game

By T.T. Stern-Enzi
Photo: [l to r] Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan and Zac Effron stumble through “That Awkward Moment” ; Rating: R Grade: D

Romantic comedy screenwriters want us to believe love is full of cute challenges, inconsequential moments blown out of proportion, awaiting simple, declarative resolutions on the pathway to a happily ever after scenario – that now leads to a sequel with more of the same. We all know from personal experience this formula has nothing to do with love as we encounter it in the real world; that’s why it is so refreshing when a movie comes along that bears some passing resemblance to reality. Sadly, we get the games impossibly beautiful characters play.

However, sometimes things get twisted and the impossibly beautiful actors playing those impossibly beautiful characters fall prey to an insidious scam foisted onto them by studios, managers and agents eager to make a quick buck. Imagine, for instance, being Michael B. Jordan or Miles Teller, two young rising stars. Jordan – coming off a breakout performance in last year’s Sundance favorite “Fruitvale Station” (which arrived seemingly hot on the heels of his mainstream showcase in “Chronicle”) – is in the enviable position of being able to almost write his own ticket. Handsome and engaging, he’s rumored to be ready to take the comic book world by storm, literally as Johnny Storm in “The Fantastic Four” reboot from “Chronicle” director Josh Trank. Teller enjoyed acclaim in the indie teen dramedy “The Spectacular Now,” has been the subject of buzz based on his performance in this year’s Sundance darling “Whiplash,” and seems poised to join Jordan in “The Fantastic Four.”

So, what on Earth are they doing trolling around in the tonally awkward mess that is “That Awkward Moment” alongside perennial rom-com playboy Zac Efron? More importantly, why should either of these guys be saddled with playing second and third fiddle behind the blandly charming Efron?

Jordan suffers from emasculation as Mikey, the married buddy struggling to figure out where his relationship went wrong and how to fix it. As the “black” friend, he’s the butt of all the sexual stereotype-gags – size apparently doesn’t matter to his estranged wife – and rendered little more than a eunuch when the fellas hit the town. Fairing a bit better, Teller’s Daniel is a quintessentially cocky, fast-talking Teller-type mis-handling his feelings for Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis), his best female friend who might be the One. His narrative, as written, has all the complexity of a grade-school romance.

I suppose this sets the stage for Efron’s front-and-center charm offensive as Jason, a devil-may-care playboy who maintains a stable of bed-warmers, as he cycles through and discards those who develop that lamentable yearning for a pesky relationship. Things change, of course, when Ellie (Imogen Poots) enters the picture. OK, that’s a lie. Nothing changes when Ellie wanders into the frame. “That Awkward Moment,” from writer-director Tom Gormican (one of the producers behind “Movie 43”), dreams of being a racy, raunchy real take on relationships between guys on the verge of maturity, but it traffics in a state of arrested development that wouldn’t even earn a second glance as a television pilot with this admittedly talented cast.

But someone convinced Jordan and Teller that this “Moment” would be good for them, that it would do wonders for their crossover appeal. I can hear the pitch now: “You’ll get to show your sexy sides, your hard-body allure that will complement your sensitive indie credibility.”

Guys, you’ve been sold a lemon, and you tried making lemonade out of it to sell at the multiplex stand to an audience eager to see you, but there’s a bitter bite all the sugar and charm can’t mask. Fortunately, we seem to suffer from short-term memory loss of “Memento” proportions, which means we will forget the awkwardness of this sorry “Moment.”

One can hope, right?

 

Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com.

 

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