The penis references in That Awkward Moment culminate with a literal swinging dick. After mistaking a posh “dress-up” party for a jokey costume bash, Jason (Zac Efron) shows up to almost-girlfriend Ellie’s apartment with a foot-long dildo dangling out of his open fly. Jason’s embarrassment eventually subsides, and he even wins the favor of Ellie’s pro-bro dad (Joseph Adams), but not before his mock schlong takes a rest in Mom’s (Tina Benko) martini glass. Earlier in the film, Jason coaches buddy Daniel (Miles Teller) on how to pee horizontally when they both endure extended erections after taking too much Viagra. And when he comes home early one night, Mikey (Michael B. Jordan), Jason and Daniel’s roommate, whose junk is orange because he masturbated with self-tanner, catches Jason mid-intercourse with fuck-buddy Alana (Addison Timlin), who remains bent over, penetrated, while the guys freeze in silent shock.
The film’s obsession with male genitalia, or, more specifically, penis receptacles (be they a glass, a toilet, or a human), is emblematic of its overall aura of male entitlement and its consideration of women as prizes to be lanced. Written and directed by newbie Tom Gormican, this is essentially a testosterone-pumped, fantasy tutorial on how man-boys can graciously achieve monogamy, yet still remain pickup-line-dependent pricks with engorged egos. Though it never identifies one specific “awkward moment,” the film’s conceit involves a pact forged by the three leads in the wake of Mikey’s separation from wife Vera (Jessica Lucas). The plan: The trio will remain single as a sign of man-tastic solidarity. The problem: No one’s able to stick it out, as Jason falls for Ellie, Daniel falls for bar-pal Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis), and Mikey rekindles the flame with Vera, all of them hiding the vow from the girls and concealing the violations from each other.
We know where That Awkward Moment is headed, but commonality of plot is low on the movie’s liabilities list. It’s as easily overlooked as this collective misstep by Efron, Teller, and Jordan, who each seem above what likely felt like a daily, on-set circle-jerk. Less forgivable is Gormican’s failure to make a good-natured comedy about taming the wild beast, and his perpetuation of the myth that men needn’t curb their self-interests in order to settle down. It’s believable enough that cut-from-marble Jason, overcompensatory goofball Daniel, and sad-eyed sweetheart Mikey could charm the pants off a lot of people in their respective ways. But the film never makes them feel deserving of their conquests, not even when they deign to ditch the lothario lifestyle. As Jason and Daniel come to the dual epiphany that their pact is bogus and relationships are badass, their exchange is less about knowing their girlfriends’ needs than it is about concocting more means to ends. While planning what to say to seal the deals with their trophy gals, they’ve merely narrowed the paths in their play-the-field mindsets.
Complete with an ’80s music cue or two, That Awkward Moment often feels like it’s striving to channel John Hughes’s ghost, but Hughes was never this unkind to his female characters (if anything, Molly Ringwald’s heroines were often in control). The only lady given true agency is Vera, who admits to cheating on Mikey, and is left saddled with the unceremonious exit of a villain. Gormican has made what feels like falsely generous, hyper-masculine theater, as exemplified in a climactic shot that captures the boys like gods who lead with their cocks. After all the beans have been spilled, the trio struts—in slow-mo—out of a swanky party, while the shocked guests look on in awe. Jason hikes up his jacket, Mikey swigs a 40, and Daniel is half-naked. It’s the awkward moment when you know this movie would auto-fellate if it could.