As Zac Efron tears up and professes his love to a pert blonde who gave it up on the first night, it’s clear the story line of romantic comedy That Awkward Moment has gone too far.
This is not because Efron’s leading lady isn’t captivating or that a fella can’t fall in love swiftly. But this revelatory moment required a compelling buildup — and an actor who could carry it out believably.
For his first film, writer-director Tom Gormican attempts a chick flick from a male point of view. But unlike successful films of this kind, such as High Fidelity, Awkward Moment unfolds like a college thesis with a big budget.
Jason (Efron) is a Manhattan pretty boy who designs book covers. He believes in having a “roster” of women and picks them up at bars and takes them home that night. Though he occasionally calls for round two, he keeps women at a safe, commitment-free distance.
Miles Teller plays Jason’s quirky best friend, co-worker and fellow lothario, Daniel. Though he’s not as handsome as Jason, he has no problem hooking ladies with his wit and with the help of wing-woman Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis).
The third link in the guys’ crew is Mikey (Michael B. Jordan, Fruitvale Station), a doctor who married his college sweetheart at 23. He’s the voice of reason — level-headed, loyal and romantic. But when he finds out wife Vera (Jessica Lucas) is cheating on him, he can’t understand where his perfect life plan went wrong.
Determined to lift their pal’s spirits, Jason and Daniel take Mikey to a bar and encourage him to become their lady-killing cohort as they all make a pact to stay relationship-free.
Unfortunately, they all end up breaking the pact: Jason falls for sassy publisher Ellie (Imogen Poots); Daniel realizes he wants to be more than friends with Chelsea; and Mikey begins sleeping with his wife again.
Though Awkward Moment is predictable, it’s not a complete disappointment. It’s satisfying for a lover of formulaic rom-coms. There are amusing moments of absurdity involving Viagra and urination. And sweet bits, like Jason’s surprise tour of Ellie’s dream Gramercy Park apartment.
And there’s an attempt to inject some heaviness as Ellie’s father dies. But despite Jason and Ellie’s budding romance, Jason is a no-show at Ellie’s father’s funeral. As a result, Ellie cuts him off. But Gormican fails to show Jason’s efforts to get Ellie back and falls short of making Efron’s character anything but selfish and egocentric. So when Jason cries in front of a bookstore full of people while declaring Ellie’s “the one,” it’s unconvincing.
Set against lofty talents like Jordan and Teller (fresh off the top Sundance award for his Whiplash), Efron comes off as little more than a pretty face. Luckily, his comedic timing is on target, though most of the jokes here are unnecessarily crass and forced.
Each emerging actress possesses a refreshing charm and on-screen easiness. But Davis’ grace and lure, though she wasn’t completely believable as a romantic match for Teller’s Daniel, make her the one to watch.
With much of the soundtrack consisting of 1980s new wave that would make John Hughes proud, the tunes are the only potential cult classic trait here. Well, that and tying everything up with a neat “love conquers all” bow.
That Awkward Moment, a Focus Features release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “sexual content and language throughout.”