Obnoxiously Attractive People Having Obnoxious Amounts of Sex
As I watched the trailers for That Awkward Moment, I kept having a visceral “Oh screw this” reaction, even after only a few seconds. Which sparked an internal debate for me. I wondered Is there really something wrong with this movie? Or am I just not ready to see young, hot Disney Channel mannequins bro it up like Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson did in movies a younger me considered classics? I was okay with hating this, but not if it meant turning into the mean old principal who hates rock n’ roll. I don’t think I’m ready for that, I don’t own enough sweater vests. Having now seen it, I’m convinced there’s something more to my horrified uncanny valley reaction than just hating teenyboppers because they’re screwing and having fun.
See, That Awkward Moment wants to have it both ways. We’re supposed to laugh at the young, dumb, full-of-cum fratty good time boys while they drink and party, yet still envy their clean coiffed Ralph Lauren catalog looks and shabby chic Crate and Barrel apartments. The whole time I was watching it I found myself thinking Man, I should get a cool overcoat like that. Man, I should get stylishly printed drapes like that. Man, I should get a beautiful tall girlfriend with a long slender neck like that.
Is this how girls feel when they watch shitty rom-coms? How do they do it? Why do they do it? I’ve now seen one dude version of a rom-com, and I already understand the appeal of Communism. Enough! Military haircuts and grey jumpsuits for everyone!
That Awkward Moment isn’t the first work ever to attempt to combine juvenile social hijinks with aspirational hip New York styling, but there’s something… off about it. And I think age does have something to do with it, but not in the GRRR, MILLENIALS! kind of way. Sarah Jessica Parker was 33 when the first season of Sex and the City aired. Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, and Zac Efron are 26, and they’re dudes. Yet their hair and clothes and apartments always look perfect, and they’re always hanging out at the coolest bars and having sex with the hottest girls without even trying. That Awkward Moment has made everyone younger and dumber and hornier, while simultaneously making them hipper and sharper and more sophisticated, like some insidious Hitler Youth infomercial for Manhattan. Sure, Patrick Bateman was 27 and well put together in American Psycho, but him being a psychotic, appearances-obsessed yuppie was the entire basis of that story. That Awkward Moment is essentially presenting us with a bunch of homicidal Patrick Batemens, while trying to pass them off as your cuddly best bud. That’s the root of the uncanny valley reaction. I don’t hate them because they’re young, I’m put off because they feel like slightly misprogrammed artificial humanoids, 33-year-old problems embodied by squeaky clean, 26-year-old Disney mannequins. ERROR ERROR, ARGUMENT INVALID, BRAIN NOT COMPUTE.
And on a more micro level, it’s a crappy rom-com so derivative that it seems to be deliberately devouring itself.
That Awkward Moment, which was originally title “Are We Officially Dating?”, starts with Michael B. Jordan, who comes home from his job as a fancy doctor one day to find another man in his house. Because this is a movie, we know that this man has been having sex with MBJ’s wife. Over coffee the next day, he tells his bros how he’s getting divorced, saying he came home to find some “Morris Chestnut-looking dude” in his house (rom-com callback #1). Just as a side note, Michael B. Jordan has two or three completely different haircuts in this film, depending on the scene, and it’s never explained. The boys then make a pact to stay single for their bro, a lá American Pie (rom-com callback #2?). Screw chicks, bro, let’s just party!
So then a few nights later, MBJ shows up to his boys’ house with ice cream and a bottle of Bulleit Rye hoping to sulk, but they throw the ice cream out the window, saying “what are you, Bridget Jones? (rom-com callback #3) It’s time to go get you some pussy, pussy!”
So they go out pussy hunting, the three amigos, along with their disgustingly hot platonic lady friend, who helps them pick up chicks. Zac Efron ends up screwing a bar girl after they meet while making fun of some guy for being a tool (note: the tool is virtually indistinguishable from Efron’s crew). After the sex, Zac and Miles Teller share a humorous phone call about all the sex they’re having while trying to aim their boners at the toilet.
Miles Teller then realizes that he’s in love with this platonic lady friend after she sings a song at some sort of New York piano bar open mic. Isn’t that just typical of New York chicks? Always singing heartfelt American standards to rooms full of rapt strangers? And sometimes you don’t know you’re in love with your hot best friend until they sing songs, because music is the poetry of sounds.
So then piano girl and Miles fall totally in love, even though he looks like Rachel Maddow and she looks like an incredibly sexy giraffe. They have lots of sex, but he offends her in some minor way that gets blown totally out of proportion in order to have a late-second act plot complication BECAUSE ROM-COM.
Meanwhile, Zac Efron initially blows off the bar girl, but then she shows up to Zac Efron’s work, where he and Rachel Maddow design book covers. Efron’s first cover pitch, incidentally, is a giant graphic of shoes, because, he explains, “the number one thing women fantasize about is shoes.” All the girls in the room smile coquettishly about this, driving home the message that Zac Efron really knows chicks, man. Especially the part about how much they love shoes (are you guys writing this down? this is important information on how to appeal to chicks.).
Player Efron really seems to be falling for this girl (can you believe it?!), and one night she shows up unannounced to his apartment. “That’s a TOTAL girlfriend move, bro,” his friends tell him. Uh oh! Players hate girlfriends! She walks in with another bottle of Bulleit Rye, saying “I brought scotch.” And NO ONE CORRECTS HER! That Awkward Moment features Bulleit Rye so prominently in at least four different scenes that there’s no chance that Bulleit wasn’t paying for it. And yet, the one time the characters actually acknowledge it, they call it “scotch.” I love that. It’s like the production got paid to advertise a brand of mouthwash, but no one knew how it worked, so the characters just walked around watering plants with it.
Efron later shows up to his girlfriend’s “dress-up” party. Only she meant “dress up” as in “cocktail attire,” while he thought it meant “silly costumes,” hence his “rock out with your cock out” costume featuring a giant dildo. LOL DILDO. At this point I had to wonder, did they purposely call their shot by referencing Bridget Jones in one scene, only to lift an entire scene from Bridget Jones 20 minutes later? Or were they just ripping off so many already-derivative movies that it was just a coincidence? Like a bunch of rom-coms were in a blender with the lid off, and an entire unblended chunk of Kat Heigl movie would occasionally shoot out and splatter on the screen?
Zac Efron’s girlfriend’s dad dies unexpectedly, a lá High Fidelity (rom-com callback #… uh… I’ve long since lost count), but Zac doesn’t go to the funeral because that would be too boyfriendy. She rightfully dumps him, and he decides he wants her back. His bros tell him “You have to do something to prove how much you love her, bro! Yeah, bro, like something crazy! Yeah, like something in a movie!”
It’s yet another meta moment, but once again it’s utterly without satire. Efron just shows up at a reading tour his girlfriend hosts, hijacks the mic, and gives a tearful speech (rom-com callback…) that’s more uncomfortable to watch than an Al Qaeda beheading video. He has now fulfilled his duties as a rom-com character, and they live happily ever after. Proving once again that the atonement for being a boorish asshole to a girl is to invade her private life and embarrass her in a public place. Ahh, l’amour!
At this point, I realize that I’ve now written far too many words about a Zac Efron movie. But I think it’s fascinating the degree to which rom-coms have started consuming themselves, where Sex and the City gets repackaged as a bro movie starring a coverboy from Tiger Beat. That Awkward Moment is a movie starring guys who could only exist in a movie, about guys who watch too many movies, in a world constructed entirely out of movies. How much more digestible can it get? The sequel is just going to be a series of zeroes and ones that you ingest via feeding tube.
Hey, man, don’t bogart that neck needle. Mmm, that’s good rom-com. Just like Bot 27719 used to make.
Vince Mancini is a writer and comedian living in San Francisco. You can find more of his work on FilmDrunk, the Uproxx network, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.