January 31, 2014



THAT AWKWARD MOMENT:  Watch It At Home – Low-Impact Rom-Com

If you heard that a new indie movie featured the stars of the past 2 years’ back-to-back Sundance sensations, Michael B. Jordan from 2013’s Fruitvale Station and Miles Teller from this year’s Whiplash, would you be intrigued?

What if Zac Efron was the other star?

Actually, that’s a little unfair to Efron, who while the least of the three leads, isn’t responsible for how flat THAT AWKWARD MOMENT is, although the fact that he has the starring role gives a better idea of what the movie is like.  Tom Gormican, the writer/director making his debut here, is the one who bears the real blame.  Gormican doesn’t do a bad job in terms of craft, giving his rom-com a slick, professional look (the cinematography is by Brandon Trost) and making solid use of New York locations that belie its low budget.  As a writer, though, his work is more hapless.

The premise is a bawdier version of what could have been a Rock Hudson/Tony Randall vehicle in the early 1960s.  Jason (Efron) and Daniel (Teller) are single buddies who (implausibly) work together designing book jackets for novels.  When their other friend, doctor Mikey (Jordan), is left by his wife Vera (Jessica Lucas), the three men make a pact that they’ll remain resolutely unserious in their relationships with women, sidestepping that “awkward moment” when the woman, inevitably fixated on locking her man down, says “So…” and wants to know where the relationship is going.  (Along with his own 20s as a NY bachelor, Gormican has cited Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labours Lost” as an influence, although that play, as I recall it, didn’t include instructions on how to urinate while under the influence of Viagra.)

Predictably, the pact falls apart almost instantly, as all three men become attached to women and lie to themselves and each other about keeping themselves uninvolved.  Vera starts sleeping with Mikey again, and he deludes himself into thinking his marriage is coming back together; Daniel tries not to admit that he’s falling for his platonic long-time wingwoman Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis).  The movie’s main focus, though, is on Jason.  We’re supposed to be charmed when he picks up Ellie (Imogen Poots) in a bar, teaming with her to drive away a less desirable guy (Gormican is so enamored of his dialogue in this sequence that he repeats it almost verbatim later on).  Then it’s meant to be hilarious that Jason, finding “The Story of O,” some thigh-high boots, and envelopes of money in Ellie’s apartment, decides that she’s a hooker and sneaks away–of course, everything we know about Jason suggests he would have snuck away at dawn in any case, but whatever. And then, guess what–Ellie turns out to be the author whose new book cover Jason and Daniel are hired to design!

Yes, it’s that kind of rom-com.  Through the course of the script, Jason is depicted as uniquely witless (misinterpreting Ellie saying he should “dress up” for her birthday as meaning it’s a costume party, which prompts him to show up in an obscene outfit) and then downright cruel, to an extent that really only Gormican’s warm regard for his alter ego could explain how Ellie could possibly forgive him in time for the closing credits.

If there was a way to make Jason into a coherent character, Efron didn’t find it.  He’s trying here to be harder-edged than in his teen-idol roles, but still comes across as amiable but bland.  The other two do better:  Jordan brings some emotional gravity to his part, and he can be believably romantic as well (he had a great arc on Parenthood a couple of seasons ago), while Teller has a really interesting, unusual presence, able to be inappropriate but still likable in a Seth Rogen-meets-young-Dustin Hoffman kind of way.

You have to feel sorry for the actresses in a movie like this.  Poots is a stunner and a fine actress who’s been struggling to find a place for herself in the Hollywood world (she’ll turn up soon in the action vehicle Need For Speed as “the girl”), and Davis is fresh and very likable, but treated as no more than an appendage of the script.  (Lucas’s character is so barely there that she hardly even makes an impression.)

That Awkward Moment can be passed over quickly, but there are two points about it worth noting.  First, that this celebration of misogyny as foreplay is being marketed as a rom-com for female audiences, scheduled to counterprogram the Super Bowl this weekend–it’ll be interesting to see if women respond to that.  Second, it marks the first release of the new incarnation of Focus Features, Universal’s one-time art-film wing (the last release of the old regime was Dallas Buyers Club) now that everyone there has been replaced with purveyors of more genre-driven low-budget fare.  (That Awkward Moment was originally supposed to be released by FilmDistrict, where most of the new executives had worked.)  If the idea was to make it instantly clear that the old Focus days were over, well:  mission accomplished.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."