That Awkward Moment When I (Sorta) Defend THAT AWKWARD MOMENT

hr_That_Awkward_Moment_4That awkward moment when you really like a bad movie. There are many reasons you do: you like the actors, you like the setting, you like the fresh(ish) take on a tired genre, you like the theme which somehow resonates with you on that day in that moment. There are plenty of reasons to like a bad movie. But if you really enjoyed the film (dare I say, connected with the film), how bad can it actually be?
That awkward moment when the film feels horribly miscast. The biggest flaw of the film is the lead actors’ ages. Zac Efron, Miles Teller, and Michael B. Jordan are playing characters in their vague mid-20s (certainly 2-3 years out of college); yet the last we saw of them, Teller was graduating from high school (The Spectacular Now); Jordan was a tragic 22-year-old (Fruitvale Station); and in the trailers before the film we saw Efron portraying a frat boy (Neighbors). Their youthful looks make them appear far too young to be in their mid-20s with some form of a career. But are they? (Maybe they’re just trying to break out of the mold they’ve been cast in.)
That-Awkward-Moment-Motion-Poster-Zac-EfronThat awkward moment when you realize all three leads are actually 26-years-old—more or less the accurate age to be playing these characters. Efron, whom we’ve seen mature over the years, is the most instantaneously believable in his role as Jason (a decade-younger Barney Stinson). While verbally sparring with Efron, Teller has enough buddy chemistry to make us buy him as being Jason’s best friend Daniel. But it’s overly-serious Mikey who, despite Jordan’s adult-seeming facial hair, feels like the odd man out. He’s a married guy facing divorce while sporting the youthful looks of a college student. His story is the least believable, and pushes him onto the fringes throughout the film.
That awkward moment when Mikey looks down on his best friends and their frivolous lifestyle. They enjoy going out each night, bedding different chicks, building up a “roster” of booty calls, yet dreading the moment when a girl gets too attached and says, “So.” So, where is this going? So, what are we? It’s a hum-drum dilemma, but they are in their mid-twenties; and it’s not their fault that Mikey got married when he was, what? 21? And how bad of a husband was he if he got Jessica Lucas to cheat on him? I don’t believe Lucas has ever played a character with a single mean bone in her body (maybe this was her attempt at breaking out of the mold).
That awkward moment when writer/director Tom Gormican seems to recognize that Mikey doesn’t quite fit in, and pulls the focus on the other two boys. Unfortunately, he has them bond over a trivial pact that haunts nearly every romantic comedy. The three amigos decide to celebrate Mikey’s impending divorce by not getting girlfriends. That’s something that Jason and Daniel have been consciously doing for years, but now that they they’ve clinked their coffee cups to it, it’s an official bro pact. And so the characters fall into the classic dilemmas we expect from a rom-com: they fall in love—Jason with the bewitching Imogen Poots (whose Ellie is far more endearing than her Allie in Greetings from Tim Buckley—but then again, Efron is a far more endearing romantic counterpart than Penn Badgley was) and Daniel with the guys’ good friend (and Robin-like wingman, I would like to add) Chelsea, played by Mackenzie Davis (whose helpful role involves telling a hot chick that she likes her shoes and then doing her version of “Have you met _____?”). Mikey is still dealing with his marital issues and doesn’t have time for the frivolous sexual relationships his buddies engage in.
maxresdefaultThat awkward moment when you like a film despite its flaws. The story may not be groundbreaking, yet it still feels fresh. I’ve been clamoring for a rom-com from the male point-of-view. And I’m not referring to bro-coms where it’s about two dudes bonding (although this film has that). This is a film about immature guys maturing in their romantic endeavors, not an easy task for “the selfish generation” as Jason aptly refers to us. It’s like getting the reverse point-of-view that we’ve seen from every other romantic comedy (about time, I tell ya!). Sure, it still falls into the formulaic pratfalls of its forebears; but what exactly did you expect when you sat down to watch it?
That awkward moment when you see yourself in the characters. These guys may be jerks who only want to hook up, but we all have those phases (unless you’re a Mikey and only accustomed or comfortable with the committed lifestyle). And maybe it’s because I’m currently in such a phase that I felt connected to Jason and Daniel’s dilemmas. It can (and does) seem so simple in the context of the film, but in real life, the lines are far blurrier, and it feels like Gormican is grasping at that. He makes these characters balance the fine line between smarmy and charming, and that’s where the casting comes in handy. For Efron and Teller are just the kind of buddies that you want to see succeed but understand when they fail. (Sure, Jordan does a good job; but I really didn’t care for him and his crumbling marriage—mostly because Gormican throws us into the divorce without establishing a resemblance of a relationship between them.)
That awkward moment when you think the movie’s theme may be a condemnation towards couples. Amidst learning to embrace being in a relationship, Jason must deal with the relationship he already has with his best friends. His (and Daniel’s) fear is that being in a relationship will make his friendship suffer. And, to some extent, that’s a correct expectation. Most people vanish into their newly founded relationships. But it is possible to balance the two (and the film hints at that). When everything inevitably goes to the toilet, Jason realizes that it’s because he devalued his relationship with his best friends. It’s the opposite effect of what happens when people do go into relationships, and it’s an interesting perspective to present (that is sadly buried in a mediocre film).
That Awkward Moment is not a good film (it was released in January). But That Awkward Moment was a very enjoyable film to watch. It addressed stories that I look for in a film, and I never once fell asleep (CONFESSION: I took 10-minute naps during American Hustle and Twelve Years a Slave). Plus, it exploits Efron’s body in a way that you hope and expect it to. If this film could be the start of something new (or at least different) in the romantic comedy genre, then it is wholly worth the price of admission (at least at matinee pricing).

Side note: As a New Yorker (can I say that yet?), I’ve been fully submersed in the Grammercy Park myth that so many of us strive for; and I fully enjoyed how the film approached it.

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Jennifer Lawrence Is the Only “Silver Lining” in this “Playbook”

Don’t let anyone fool you, Silver Linings Playbook is a romantic comedy. Sure, it’s one of those male-centered rom-com (i.e. Playing for Keeps); but it still retains all the elements of the genre. No matter how much director David O. Russell (who also adapted the film from the Matthew Quick novel) tries to obscure the genre, the last ten minutes of the film are so quintessentially rom-com that he loses that battle.

MV5BMTM2MTI5NzA3MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODExNTc0OA@@._V1._SY317_Pat (Bradley Cooper) was institutionalized after violently abusing his wife’s lover (turns out he’s bi-polar, not just an angry husband). His mother, Dolores (Jacki Weaver), busts him out of the mental institution, to bring him back home to his father, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro), who is a gambling addict that suffers from superstitious OCD. He wants his son to spend “family time” with him, which consists of watching football games while holding a special handkerchief to help his team win. Pat, of course, wants none of that; he’s too busy trying to win back the love of his wife, Nikki (Brea Bee) who currently has a restraining order out against him.

To help him, Pat enlists Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) whom he meets through his friend Ronnie (John Ortiz) and his bougie wife, Veronica (a deliciously entertaining Julia Stiles). Tiffany and Veronica are friends with Nikki, and Tiffany agrees to slip her a letter from Pat (breaking his restraining order) in exchange for his help in dancing with her at a big dance event. Tiffany recently took up dancing to cope with her manic depression that resulted from her husband’s death.

There’s certainly enough in this plot to make it an amusing film, but problems with the film’s execution quickly begin to arise. Whatever likeability Cooper brings to Pat is soon lost as his flaws are proudly displayed. His bi-polar disorder apparently gives him the right to walk about speaking unfiltered thoughts to anyone within 10-foot radius; it also means he’s violently aggressive at the drop of a hat. This results mostly in him and Pat Sr. devolving into shouting matches that frequently turn violent, which happen about every 5-8 minutes. Lastly, his obsession with getting back together with his wife feels even crazier than his anger management skills. Why would he want to be with a woman who would cheat on him (with an ugly, older man, no less) and file a restraining order against him for defending his husbandly honor? And why should we, as an audience, care about this at all if we don’t even meet Nikki until the last 15 minutes of the film?

Other questions abound, as well. Why would Dolores take her son out of the mental health facility if she were just going to cower in the corner adding her frightened whimpers to the cacophony of noises produce by the arguing men? How does Officer Keogh (Dash Mihok) always show up one minute after Pat starts feeling enraged (that scene in front of the movie theater is utterly ridiculous)? Does Pat own any clothes that aren’t sweat suits and jerseys? And are we supposed to revel in the foibles of these crazy people or feel sorry for their psychiatric plights?

Of course, these questions go greatly unanswered in this thinly plotted film (over half the film is spent rehashing the same basic plot points like a broken record). Yet if Cooper is too erratic and De Niro too obsessive, then Lawrence is the film’s saving grace. She plays up the character’s mental issues while still being a relatable character. Her actions are believable (if predictable); and her chemistry with Cooper is palpable (yet another reason why it is hard to believe he could still be obsessed with Nikki). But not even Lawrence could save this film from being a miserable headache of a film.

 

Everyone Is Hot for Coach in “Playing for Keeps”

MV5BMTY1MTU1OTA5NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTM1MTQyOA@@._V1._SY317_Playing for Keeps is one of those rare male-centered romantic comedies. This one focuses on the family with retired international soccer star George (Gerard Butler) moving to Virginia to live close to his ex Stacie (Jessica Biel) and his son Lewis (Noah Lomax). In his attempts to mature as role model for his son, he decides to coach Lewis’ soccer team. But the lonely soccer moms threaten his attempts at maturation and winning over Stacie’s heart.

Taking a page from Silver Linings Playbook, Keeps incorporates its own cast of zany characters. Young single mom Barb (Judy Greer) throws herself at George while suffering from intense mood swings. Patti (Uma Thurman), the dissatisfied wife of wealthy Carl (Dennis Quaid), wants to have revenge sex with George to enrage Carl. And cougar mother Denise (Catherine Zeta-Jones) uses her fame as a sportscaster (he’s trying to get a job as a sportscaster while coaching the team) to lure him into her paws (or claws?). While attempting to resist these women, George learns the importance of being a father and he reconnects with Stacie, who happens to be engaged to another man.

The usual elements of the rom-com work well in this film, and the added family aspects make George a very likable lead. Biel is also surprisingly engaging in the film; maybe making this the year we take her seriously as an actress (see also: Hitchcock). Of course, nothing about this film is extraordinary, but sometimes it’s refreshing to see an amusing—if mediocre—film. You may not be amazed by Playing for Keeps, but you will feel its heartwarming effects.