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Saturday, July 9, 2016

Netflix Recommends... That Awkward Moment (2014)


Director: Tom Gormican
Starring: Zac Efron, Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan

Lesson one: Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan, fine actors who have separately made fine films, should not make movies together. Lesson two (which I learn over and over again): Netflix is wrong more often than it is right. In the time that I've been keeping track of the movies that I've watched based on Netflix's recommendation, always choosing something I've never seen (which, in Netflix's defense, immediately eliminates at least a quarter of the titles in the Top Picks list, with another quarter being irrelevant because they're TV series), I've seen a lot of bad movies. Every once in a while I'll end up with a good movie, one that I either wouldn't have seen otherwise (Warrior, Rise of the Planet of the Apes) or that I had always intended to see but had never gotten around to previously (Miller's Crossing, Please Give), and sometimes I'll see a movie that's objectively bad but still reasonably entertaining (300: Rise of an Empire, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters), and in at least one case a bad movie that isn't entertaining in and of itself, but which can be made entertaining by tracking the subtext (This Means War). Mostly, though, I've seen terrible movies. Rendition. Runner Runner. Let's Be Cops. The Other Woman. A Good Day to Die Hard. And now, That Awkward Moment, a movie in which Zac Efron and Michael B. Jordan appear shirtless often enough to suggest that women are the target audience (Efron even won an MTV Movie Award for "Best Shirtless Performance" - what a world we live in), yet is so aggressively bro-ish that every other scene might as well start with a title card reading "No Girls Allowed."

Jason (Efron), Daniel (Miles Teller), and Mikey (Michael B. Jordan) are three friends living in New York (of course). Mikey is a doctor who married Vera (Jessica Lucas) right out of university, and Jason and Daniel work at a publishing house designing book covers and don't date women so much as they maintain and cycle through a "roster" of women. When Vera suddenly dumps Mikey, revealing to him that she's leaving him for another man, Jason and Daniel take him out to celebrate being single, even though he's not in a celebratory mood and would really just rather figure out a way to save his marriage. At the end of the night, Daniel ends up going home with a woman that his friend, Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis), introduces him to, Jason ends up going home with Ellie (Imogen Poots), whose apartment he ends up fleeing in the dead of night after starting to think that she might be a hooker, and Mikey ends up going back to Jason's place and seeks solace with a bottle of tanning lotion which ends up leaving part of him orange. Afterwards, the three men make a pact that they will all stay single for a year, which is stupid because no one does something like that in real life, but which is doubly stupid because Jason and Daniel have already been committed to being single for years and all Mikey wants to do is wallow in the ruins of his broken relationship anyway.

But, of course, this is a movie so as soon as they make the pact, the fates begin to align in such a way as to tempt them to break it. Mikey and Vera secretly get back together (sort of) and he believes that they might save their marriage. Daniel and Chelsea realize that what they've been looking for is right in front of them (of course) and begin seeing each other. Jason is shocked when he walks into a meeting at the office and discovers that Ellie is his new client and, after discussing why he ran out on her without a word, begin seeing each other regularly. Daniel and Mikey know about Jason's relationship with Ellie, and tease him about it relentlessly while he continues to insist that she's not his "girlfriend" and then does something which would ensure (if Ellie were smart) that she never will be his girlfriend. Meanwhile, Mikey and Daniel keep their relationships with Vera and Chelsea, respectively, secret, Mikey because he's still trying to figure out where things stand with Vera, Daniel because... I don't know; he's kind of an idiot about it, not telling the guys about Chelsea, but telling Chelsea that his friends are totally supportive of them being in a relationship, never thinking that Chelsea and his friends might actually speak to each other at some point despite the fact that she hangs out with them on an at least semi-regular basis and is apparently good enough friends with them that they both have standing invitations to her family's annual Thanksgiving party.

Broken down to its basic components, That Awkward Moment is a movie about three guys who fail to see women as people. One of those guys (Mikey) is inherently decent and was simply blinded by his desire to attain all the trappings of adulthood ("checking the boxes," as he puts it) as quickly as possible that he fails to recognize that he's married a person who was more into the idea of getting married than the reality of being married. Although Mikey seems nothing but genuine in his affection for Vera, there's not really any point at which it seems like he actually knows who she is or has ever had a conversation with her about what she wants for her future. She's not a partner to him, she's a symbol (the "wife"), which is why their relationship fails (twice). Daniel and Jason are guys who value women only at moments when they have, or might get, a boner. Daniel eventually falls for Chelsea (though this doesn't really change my assessment of his character, given that she's apparently spent years steering women at bars towards him, and the only times we see her in the movie are when she's either directing a woman towards him or having sex with him herself, so that her value in the film is directly linked to whether he's able to get sex on a consistent basis) and maybe grows up a little bit, in that he decides that he'd rather just be with Chelsea than continue cycling through women.

Jason, meanwhile, is the worst. He's the kind of person who self-aggrandizes by creating his own lingo (the aforementioned "roster," his description of "the so..." as being a moment in the conversation with a woman when the good times are officially about to come to an end) to express his philosophy on life because he's already got it all figured out; the kind of person who will show up in an aggressively sexual costume to a "dress up" party and, after learning that "dress up" meant fancy dress rather than costume, will not only stay at the party, but won't discard any of the easily removable parts of the costume; the kind of person who will choose the easy, selfish thing at every turn, who will be dumped because of it, who will then spend months creeping the FaceBook page of his ex-girlfriend (or "girlfriend") but only actually decide to make a grand gesture and ask for forgiveness after he learns that she's seeing someone else, and who will then crash an event that she's organized, which he knows means a lot to her (an event she puts together on a regular basis and which he has known means a lot to her since their first date, when she invited him to attend one some time, and yet he could never be bothered to go when they were actually together), and interrupts the whole thing to make his "gesture" because God forbid he ever be in a room without making everything all about him. Jason sucks, and the movie is so entrenched in his mindset that it can't help but suck, too.

That Awkward Moment is a movie about men who know nothing about women, made by men who have apparently never actually gotten to know a woman. Here's an example: the movie thinks that women's interests are limited to shoes. When Daniel and Jason stroll into a meeting with a female author to discuss the cover of her next book, they appear at first to have nothing to show her. They tell her that they don't want her book to end up looking like every other book out there written by a woman for women and then Jason hops up and scribbles the title of the book on a blank canvas and then draws a picture of a shoe. It's the shoe, he says, that's going to stand out and draw the audience in. The author, and the other women at the table, nods in appreciation of his brilliance, struck dumb by how revolutionary his idea is. First of all, there is nothing special about this idea. Based on the way they talk about the covers of similar books, it's safe to assume that this particular book belongs to the "chick lit" genre, and I'm pretty sure that the only object that appears on more chick lit covers than a shoe (or pair of shoes) is a wine glass. Second of all, if this were isolated, I would let it go, but here's how Chelsea does her wingman work for Daniel: she compliments a woman walking by on her shoes, starting a conversation with her and then passing her off to Daniel. Each time. And it works, because shoes are the only thing that women are actually interested in, to the point that they will be blindly drawn towards books with shoes on the cover and blindly drawn towards men whose friends compliment the shoes they're wearing.

The women in That Awkward Moment have no personalities whatsoever; they exist merely as mirrors for the desires of their male counterparts. Ellie is the woman with the most screen time throughout the film. Want to know what she's like? Read the "cool girl" speech from Gone Girl. She's your basic "girl who can hang," someone who is sexually available, can happily spend an evening playing video games with her non-boyfriend and his friends, never initiates "the so..." conversation or really makes any demands on the guy she's with, and readily drops the new guy she's seeing in order to get back with the one whom she acknowledges was never there for her, because he's finally decided that she's worth making a little bit of an effort for after all. Ellie is not a person; she's wish fulfillment for a mediocre male who wants to remain as unchallenged and undeservedly rewarded as possible, and That Awkward Moment is the kind of movie that thinks that's pretty awesome.

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