It really takes effort for a movie to make me actively angry while I'm sitting in the theater – I see my fair share of completely generic offerings that inspire little to no emotion in me as I'm watching, the cinematic equivalent of floor-to-ceiling beige – but for a movie to make me grit my teeth and start shifting uncomfortably in my seat, it has to be much more than a waste of two hours of my life. A romantic comedy neither romantic nor comedic that utterly squanders a cast populated by amazing young talents, That Awkward Moment fits the bill perfectly, crafting an exquisitely miserable experience that effectively answers the question of what a rom-com written by American Psycho's Patrick Bateman would look like.
Positing a world where women exist only to laugh at middle-school quality riffs from men, That Awkward Moment (a title never uttered or explained at any point perhaps referring to how Focus Features' studio reps felt after viewing final cut) left me feeling as though in a fugue state from the very start. The film takes a group of three young talented actors (Zac Efron, Fruitvale Station's Michael B. Jordan and The Spectacular Now's Miles Teller) and reduces them to platitude-spouting bros, and then populates the periphery of the film with numerous females that have the unenviable task of convincing us these characters are anything other than loathsome.
Writer/director Tom Gormican's screenplay was on the 2010 Black List, but either it was abducted by aliens whose knowledge of our culture is supplied only by Axe Body Spray commercials in the intervening years, or the Black List means something entirely different than what it used to. All of this film's problems can be traced back to the unspeakable horrors housed within its screenplay. Combining tone-deaf dialogue with sub-sitcom situations is never a recipe for success (three bros promise not to date – THAT IS LITERALLY THE MOVIE'S NARRATIVE THRUST), but most galling of all the film never seems to realize that it had crafted itself around a genuine garbage man for a lead.
Zac Efron's (a charismatic actor I generally enjoy) Jason starts the movie off as a creep and only behaves more reprehensibly as the story progresses, leaving all other characters to hang on his every word like he's unleashing witty bon mots and not the queasy bromides that are two parts Rohypnol, one part Affliction T-shirt they actually are. Miles Teller's genuine charisma almost overpowers his character's similarly facile observations, but there's only so much a talented performer can do in the face of such dire source material. Michael B. Jordan comes out the least scathed of the film's performers, but that's only due to his storyline being the only thing reasonably approximating genuine human interaction in the film so of course it's summarily dismissed.
By the time the movie lurches towards the finish line with its genre-mandated realizations and declarations of true love, I realized that I was watching was a cinematic sociopath – trying desperately to convince me that it's capable of genuine emotion while aping behaviors picked up from other functioning movies. It was telling to me that during Zac Efron's moment of romantic clarity with regard to Imogen Poots' Ellie, he could just as easily been talking about a really good steak or episode of Game of Thrones, treating his supposed intellectual equal like a piece of missing property. If the ostensible romantic lead of your picture never deigns to learn the value of another human being, where the hell does that leave its audience? For me, silently seething in my seat.