By Preston Wilder
That awkward moment when a teenage star feels the need to grow up along with his fans. To be fair, Zac Efron has been planning this for a couple of years now, looking for ways to move on from High School Musical (he’s now 26). He’s been jeune premier in a couple of films with starry casts (The Paperboy and Me and Orson Welles) – and now moves on even further, playing a young man with a job, a life and his own New York apartment. Maybe he’s gone too far, because Zac is a bit callow in That Awkward Moment; it’s probably a good thing that he goes back to college in Bad Neighbours, also out in local cinemas.
This is Sex and the City with men, though I don’t recall Carrie and Co. referencing each other’s vaginas as often as the three lads here (the other two are played by Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan) talk about each other’s penises. “Your dick looks like a snowman’s nose” is one vivid simile, others including “a can of Cheddar Pringles” and “a sad giraffe” (the latter offered when Jordan accidentally puts tanning lotion on his man-parts and ends up painting them orange). Teller also likes to use the toilet whenever he comes to Zac’s apartment, which adds to the pungent guy vibe and also becomes a running joke. “Every time!” marvels Efron. “Every time!” echoes Jordan.
There’s a lot of echoed dialogue in this movie. One of its more annoying tics is the way it tries to build energy by having the actors repeat each other’s lines, like a thespian tag-team. One scene has the lovely Imogen Poots – who really needs to pick better scripts, what with this and A Long Way Down – ringing Efron’s doorbell while the three guys are laying on the sofa having ‘guy time’. He wants to let her in, the others protest, and the dialogue goes roughly like this: “I’m gonna buzz her in.” “Don’t buzz her in!” “Don’t buzz her in!” “I’m gonna buzz her in.” “Don’t buzz her in!” “I’m buzzing her in.” “Don’t buzz her in.” [buzz] “He buzzed her in.” “He buzzed her in.” “He buzzed her in.”
I assume it’s all youthful energy, or How Young People Speak or whatever. That Awkward Moment has a few pretensions to generational statement (“They call us the Selfish Generation…”) and at least one scene – when Zac and Imogen fool a middle-aged estate agent into showing them an expensive house so they can steal the key – with echoes of the larky vibe you find in Swinging London films from the 60s, when the duo might’ve been played by Alan Bates and Julie Christie. But the film is mostly stale, far too dependent on Viagra jokes and horndog ambience – then tries to reveal a romantic flip-side, and just seems cheesy.
There are weird misjudgments in this movie. Imogen’s dad dies of a heart attack – it actually feels quite tragic, since we’d met him in an earlier scene and he seemed sympathetic – but Zac doesn’t go to the funeral because “it would mean that we’re dating”. Maybe it’s just me, but this seems excessive; going to a friend’s father’s funeral is just common decency, it kind of transcends relationship issues (though I guess it might be different for 20-somethings in a big city). There’s also a strange almost-joke when the two first meet, sleep together on the first night, then Zac notices envelopes of cash and a copy of The Story of O in her apartment, assumes she’s a hooker (!) and sneaks out. It’s neither plausible nor very funny, and nothing much comes of it anyway.
I’m not the best audience for raunchy laddish humour, but maybe this should’ve been raunchier. As it is, it seems caught between sitcom, rom-com and sex-com, with irrelevant Kids These Days asides (sign of the times: doing a Facebook-and-Google on a possible rival). Efron and Teller are supposed to be ladies’ men – Teller has a junior-Vince-Vaughn air about him – and the title refers to the moment when a woman wants to take a relationship to the next level (while the man just wants to have fun), but there’s no real edge to their sexual exploits; the whole thing feels superficial, Efron’s performance most of all. It’s clear he wants to grow up – he says the word “fuck” before we even get to the opening credits – but it won’t be easy. Teenage stars are allowed to be slightly distant (the better for their female fans to project fantasies onto them), but distance can translate to a cold, plastic quality when they come of age. Awkward!
DIRECTED BY Tom Gormican
STARRING Zac Efron, Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Imogen Poots
US 2014 94 mins