That Awkward Moment desperately wants to speak to a new generation of romantic-comedy devotees without proving it has the authority to do so. It’s not as laboriously dumb as the overloaded ensemble rom-coms of Garry Marshall (Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve) or the similarly star-studded He’s Just Not That Into You. But Tom Gormican’s debut yearns to stand out as a benchmark for what dating is like at this moment in time, all the while working with the same basic toolkit as every other film in the genre.
Mikey (Michael B. Jordan), a doctor who “checked all the boxes” and got married at 23, comes home one day to find his wife is not only having an affair, but also wants a divorce. In an effort to console their friend, book-cover designers Jason (Zac Efron) and Daniel (Miles Teller) hatch a pact—one that somehow transmutes into a bet—to remain single together in solidarity. They cultivate their “rosters,” women they hook up with but never date, because dating is when the fun ends. But Jason begins to fall for Ellie (Imogen Poots), an author, and Daniel starts becoming more than friends with longtime wing-woman Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis).
The first sign of trouble is that Jordan’s plot feels airlifted in from an entirely different film, more adult melodrama than goofy R-rated romantic comedy. Mikey’s attempts to win back his ex-wife come off as a transparent bid for a serious subplot, designed to suggest that everything might not work out in the end. Mostly, though, the plot hits all the expected beats. The other guys aren’t even close to operating on Mikey’s level of commitment; they’re still worried about dating, to say nothing of everlasting love or marriage. That Awkward Moment has only light whiffs of modern romance, like Facebook stalking, along with bizarre factual errors (like everyone calling a clearly labeled bottle of Bulleit Rye whiskey “Scotch.”)
Yet Jordan, Teller, and occasionally Efron are beguilingly committed, saving scene after scene in a movie that doesn’t deserve them. They have great comedic chemistry and make limp, sophomoric humor sound like believable banter among a group of 26-year-old friends. Jordan and Teller even infuse the emotional moments with the right poignancy, though the script provides no assistance in laying the groundwork for those scenes. (Efron places a distant third, but he’s got undeniable charisma and clearly gives everything he’s got.)
What all three plot strands have in common is a lazy adherence to the standard movie-romance playbook—the moment someone realizes it’s really over this time, a big redemptive speech that should never make up for an irrevocably callous and selfish act, a hospital-bed reunion after an accident. That Awkward Moment gives in to them all. It squanders the rapport among three of the best young actors working today in order to follow the formula of countless genre predecessors.