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Dudes, where's your dignity?

Adding guys to rom-com formula fails to shake it up

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From left, Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan and Zac Efron debate the merits of rocky road versus heavenly hash.

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From left, Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan and Zac Efron debate the merits of rocky road versus heavenly hash.

For a movie with apparent commercial aspirations, That Awkward Moment is a puzzler.

It's a guy-centric rom-com. Really, is there even a viable audience for that?

Be assured: this film by writer-director Tom Gormican is not a raw, raucous sex comedy, erection jokes notwithstanding. In fact, it has male characters who suffer romantic rejection and find consolation in pints of ice cream... without irony.

It's bad luck that this film comes on the heels of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's more adventurous lad-culture deconstruction Don Jon, which, among other things, presented the Hollywood rom-com as a kind of mainstream porn as poisonously unrealistic as Internet porn.

For that reason alone, the timing of this particular film feels... awkward.

Former teen dreamboat Zac Efron plays Jason, a book-cover designer who takes pleasure in playing the field in the sexual playground that is New York City. When it comes to anything long-term, his loyalty is reserved for his two longtime pals Daniel (Miles Teller) and Mikey (Michael B. Jordan).

When the married Mikey is confronted by his wife and her divorce lawyer -- who also happens to be her lover -- he retreats into a state of paralyzing insecurity.

Cue the ice cream.

To help build him back up, Jason and Daniel promise to stay single and unattached along with him, precisely the kind of foolish act of solidarity you would only find in a romantic comedy.

Their timing is off. Jason has just met the winsome writer Ellie (Imogen Poots), whom he initially mistakes as a new breed of trendy hooker. Meanwhile, Daniel is re-evaluating his own relationship with his female best friend Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis), a womanly wingman who perversely enjoys helping Daniel hook up at bars.

Things start to get serious between both these couples. And just to round things out, Mikey starts to gain some momentum in reconciling with his estranged, unfaithful wife (Jessica Lucas).

In order to keep some of these relationships from naturally blossoming into love, someone is going to have to do something unnaturally stupid.

Cue Jason and an act of unforgivable, responsibility-shirking obnoxiousness.

The three male heroes in this movie have charm (Teller) and good looks (Efron and Jordan) but not much in the way of cojones. Blame director Gormican. His characters, for all their sexual charisma, are an emasculated lot -- selfish, self-serving and dishonest to their women and themselves. Yet Gormican begs the audience -- and the female characters -- to cut them slack, a stance that results in the most ghastly of all rom-com tropes, the reconciliation in a public place.

Good luck to any young men who watch this film to take pointers on how to behave like a man. You're doomed, dudes.

Cue the raspberry.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 31, 2014 D3

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