The first film from writer-director Tom Gormican takes the long way around to get to a truth most of us already know, although it's one that isn't presented in movies very often. The idea is that men, for all of their macho posturing and supposed fear of commitment, are just as susceptible to falling in love and desiring a relationship as women are. As I said, this may be an obvious realization, but in the realm of romantic comedies, which THAT AWKWARD MOMENT certainly is, it's not a theme that is often explored, I suppose because if men and women were treated as too similar, where would the tension and comedy come from? ("Good writing," is the answer, but let's not quibble.) And Gormican makes his characters (and the audience) jump through a whole lot of sometimes burdensome hoops to arrive at this "duh" conclusion.
The story concerns three male best friends at various stages in their emotional growth. Mikey (FRUITVALE STATION's Michael B. Jordan) is married, but his marriage is in trouble, and his wife has just told him she wants to separate. His friends (both single) Jason and Daniel (respectively, Zac Efron and Miles Teller, best known from his devastating performance in THE SPECTACULAR NOW) make two promises to their buddy: to take Mikey out with them to get his mojo back with the ladies, and to stay out of committed relationships until Mikey is fully recovered. So naturally, all three almost immediately find themselves in some type of attachment within days of making this vow together. Mikey ends up secretly having sex with his ex-wife, who finds single Mikey more interesting than the one who's her husband; Daniel hooks up with the guys' female friend/wingman in picking up other women, Chelsea (relative newcomer Mackenzie Davis); and Jason meets the bright, funny and beautiful Ellie (Imogen Poots).
The real source of drama for the guys isn't whether or not they should be in relationships (they all seem varying degrees of happy doing what they're doing). Instead, the only real tension in the film is the other guys finding out and disapproving. The title of the film refers to that moment in many casually dating couple's existence when one of them says "So, where is this going?" (the film's original title was ARE WE OFFICIALLY DATING?, which is actually far more appropriate), but that question isn't really much of an issue where these women are concerned; they both seem okay not defining the relationships. The biggest disappointment about THAT AWKWARD MOMENT is that if there wasn't this gimmick about keeping these relationships secret, it might have been a funny little coming-of-maturity story about these three lunkheads.
The big surprise about the film is that the Ellie and Chelsea characters are far more developed and fully realized than any of the men. We get to see them with their extended families, we experience some of their personal drama (outside of the relationship), and we care far more about them coming out of this story unscathed than we do the men. Poots is pretty much always good in whatever she does, and there's an effortless (and quirk-free) charm to Ellie that makes you like her. In the scene where she meets Jason in a bar, it's almost a tie figuring out who's picking up whom. But it's Davis who's the real discovery here. She matches her male counterparts in terms of rude behavior, a filthy mouth and her general attitude about bedding a good friend. She rolls with every immature turn Daniel throws at her and always coming out looking cooler than she did five minutes earlier.
The film's attempts at shocking, R-rated humor are hit or miss at best. There's a bit about two of the guys trying to urinate while on Viagra that is kind of amusing, but a bit involving Mikey and a bottle of bronzer is just dumb. It's almost as if director Gormican didn't have the confidence in his material, and covered his ass with juvenile jokes. With characters this smart, it wasn't necessary. The bigger issue in the film that there are a few dramatic turns that didn't seem authentic, particularly one in which Jason fails to help Ellie through a crisis in her life because he's afraid if he does, it will look to his buddies like they're dating. What he does (or doesn't do) probably qualifies as an unforgivable offense, but not in this movie world, where people can be forgiven with a simple public gesture of affection. Don't try this at home, kids.
THAT AWKWARD MOMENT has a lot going for it, first and foremost its impressive cast. But a little more sincerity and less posturing would have gone a long way toward making this a more enjoyable experience. I can recommend the women in this film without hesitation, both in the way they're written and the performances by Poots and Davis. But as in life, it's the men who need finishing school. They feel like sketches of far more interesting men, and that's a shame because they each go through fairly interesting developments in the course of this story. But it's so bogged down in nonsense that the point or any signs of growing up are lost. It's a closer call than you might think, but THAT AWKWARD MOMENT doesn't pull it together in the end.