Saturday, February 1, 2014

THAT AWKWARD MOMENT When Your Movie Is Terrible

Most romantic comedies have a moment where boy loses girl after a Big Mistake or a Regrettable Miscommunication and spends a montage or two mooning over what could’ve been before resolving to make things right and win her back. Usually, this serves to get an audience good and ready for a teary, smiling reunion and a happy ending. You know something has gone very wrong when you find yourself thinking instead that she’d be better off without him. That Awkward Moment goes wrong exactly like that. The thing is, characters in any movie should be likable or interesting, sometimes both, but never neither. Here it’s neither. The spaces where characters should be, characters to care about, get involved in, or find reflecting some kind of truth, are instead a vacant spot that’s at best bland and generic, at worst actively irritating.

At the end of the movie, all I really know about Zac Efron’s character is that he’s a twentysomething New Yorker who designs book covers and resists serious relationships until – surprise, surprise – he finds himself in one. The movie thinks this guy is great and deserves to end up with the sweet, bookish Imogen Poots for no other reason than because he’s the one the movie has set her up with. They’re meant to live out this rom com arc together since that’s what the movie thinks we are here to see, not because of who they are or what they represent to each other.

It’s the kind of movie where no one really talks to each other. They just speak thudding one-liners and the kind of overwritten buddy wisecracking that makes it seem like everyone is trying too hard to live their lives like it’s a sitcom. Efron and his fellow twentysomething buddies, a single carouser (Miles Teller) and a guy going through a divorce (Michael B. Jordan), sit around joking with each other in phallocentric R-rated ways, living in impossibly nice New York City apartments while working impossibly nice jobs, and heading out to pick up chicks in all-too-possible entitled and gross ways. What a life, eh? Since Jordan’s divorce is a fresh wound, the trio decides to stay single and support each other in their quest for hookups and Meet Cutes, wingmen to the last. They think they’ll have no problem living the bro lifestyle, but soon, in what is supposed to amount to surprise in this obvious screenplay, they all find romantic attachments they try to hide from their buddies so as not to create hurt feelings of un-bro-like conduct. Whatever.

Writer-director Tom Gormican has a flat and bland style that runs these cardboard types through the typical motions, thawing their dumb young hearts with sickly sweet love. If they ever had a thought in their heads or a clever comment amongst them, it’s kept off screen. The movie takes four appealing young actors and proves beyond a doubt that they can’t yet bring additional life to nothing characters. When Efron and Poots first meet, he bolts because he mistakes her for “a hooker,” the word choice he and his pals repeat ad nauseam because they think it’s a hilarious misunderstanding and because, ha ha, they think ladies are gross when they might have motives that aren’t pure desire for these guys. Despite starting off on a bad note, the two realize they both like Gramercy Park and playfully insulting each other, a pastime they combine and expand to others when they trick a realtor into letting them tour a home so that they can steal a key to the park. How romantic? I doubt it, but maybe I’ve been under the wrong impressions all these years.

They say movies sell unrealistic expectations of love, true enough in some cases, but That Awkward Moment is only operating under unrealistic expectations of what will delight and amuse an audience. I went into a screening in the middle of the afternoon and quickly felt sleep tugging at the corners of my attention. It was so dull and uninvolving, I spent some time thinking about how I’d start this review. And then, as I slid lower and lower in my seat, I started wondering if I’d be more comfortable if I balled up my scarf and used it as a pillow. I decided against doing that. The theater was a tad cold and I appreciated my scarf on my neck where it belonged, doing the job it was designed for. I didn’t hate the movie so much as I hated that it was still happening in front of me, and that time grew so slow. When I at long last left as the credits ran theoretically funny bloopers, I felt I hadn’t seen the sun in days, weeks even. Rarely does a movie that’s so thoroughly nothing seem to waste so much time.

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