Awkward and Uncertain


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That Awkward Moment's frat comedy lacks the Lubitsch Touch

The three best friends of That Awkward Moment, graphic artists Jason and Daniel (Zac Efron, Miles Teller) and medical intern Mike (Michael B. Jordan), are cynical about increasing their sexual activity, enjoying their young middle-class professional prerogative on the loose in New York City. Encouraging each other to keep a "roster" of conquests, these sitcom dudes' attitude and talk are artificially raunchy--the language of contrived realism that attempts to match the new frank, unapologetic amorality made fashionable by TV's Two and a Half Men and Lena Dunham's HBO series Girls.

The boy-men of That Awkward Moment don't suffer the misgivings that show runner-star Dunham embraces; their masculine humiliations are just frat boy braggadocio (penis jokes, fart gags, zero chagrin, alcohol). The lack of genuine humiliation and lack of depth keep That Awkward Moment from achieving the most redemptive quality of even Girls' gross exhibitionism. The exhibitionism in That Awkward Moment is worse than a sitcom; it's rank, calculated indie snark.


By fortunate coincidence, I saw That Awkward Moment a day after watching Ernst Lubitsch's 1941 That Uncertain Feeling which was a world away in style and feeling, where sexual awareness came cloaked in sophisticated allusion, wit more subtle than innuendo. Not even the vulgarity of That Awkward Moment could erase such Lubitsch gems as "A husband must be like a stranger; someone whose acquaintance you want to make everyday" or the scene where Merle Oberon questioned a Surrealist portrait painting's symbolism: "What's the pedestal mean?" "Greatness" answered a modest cocksman.


Modesty is the least of what That Awkward Moment lacks. The three wannabe studs prove absolutely unlikable in their conceitedness and in smirky performance--by Jordan who, as token Black guy, resorts to drinking a 40-ounce; Teller's unprepossessing pockmarked smugness; and Efron's over-gymmed white pretty boy, petty-thief self-absorption. Efron's confession to the literary star Ellie (Imogen Poots) he seduced and abandoned is the most unfelt movie monologue in ages. His baby-blue-eyed "sincerity" and peach fuzz manliness epitomize the triteness of writer/director Tom Gormican's attempt at making a 21st century masculine sex farce.


That Awkward Moment, titled for the uncertain feeling when a female asks a male where their relationship is headed, looks like an inept version of Breakin' All the Rules and Chaos Theory, trenchant, underrated films by Daniel Taplitz our closest contemporary equivalent to Lubitsch. Taplitz, like Lubitsch, never separated sexuality from morality while Gormican poorly imitates Dunham's trendy-confused gender narcissism--in Jason's Dirk Diggler routine, Daniel's smug exploitation of Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis) and Mike's ceaseless booty-begging. The result is awkward at best.


Follow Armond White on Twitter at 3xchair


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