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.

Book vs. Film: “The Paperboy” Film Far Outshines the Novel

Pete Dexter’s novel The Paperboy is a concisely written account of a journalist’s attempts to free a supposedly innocent man on death row. How then, does Lee Daniels’ adaptation of the book (which he co-wrote with Dexter) become a lust-fueled orgy of exploitation? Could the answer simply be that because Daniels is a gay African American male, he chose to use those identities to inform his auteur take on the novel? Or did Daniels just simply want to make a wildly bizarre film after his heartwrenching film Precious? And which (if either) is the one you should check out?

the-paperboyIn the late 60s, Hillary van Wetter (John Cusack) is on Death Row for the murder of a sheriff (who is beloved for only killing black men). Van Wetter is about to receive some aid from an unlikely gang composed of the famed Miami Times reporting duo Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) and Yardley Archeman (David Oyelowo); Ward’s brother—and temporary driver—Jack (Zac Efron); and the woman, Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), who is in love with van Wetter despite only knowing him from the letters she’s written to him in prison. Determined to prove his innocence (in the murder, at least), the gang ostracizes themselves in the small community as they aim to release this violent man from prison.

Both book and film begin from this scenario, but slowly their stories diverge. In Dexter’s novel, Jack narrates from the first-person his account of what happens in the journalists’ quest for truth. He protects and idolizes Ward (who gets into some trouble with some sailors); clashes with Yardley; and watches a self-proclaimed maneater devour his father and his father’s newspaper (which Jack is supposed to inherit). Dexter tells a succinct story that concerns itself more with finding the truth than with oversexing the characters. While this makes for a perfectly adequate novel, it does very little to set it apart from other adequate or mediocre novels.

Daniels’ film, however, alters much of what happens in the book (or at least how it’s portrayed), making for a far more engaging (if also absurd) story. The Jansen’s maid, Anita (Macy Gray), narrates the film with her exaggerated Southern accent. Yardley has an affected British accent and is portrayed by an African Englishman, despite the character in the novel being a white American man. Even Jack and Charlotte’s relationship (which is merely a hinted at flirtation in the novel) turns into a full-blown sexual affair (with Charlotte peeing on Jack after a jellyfish attack to prove her affection for him—a group of sunbathing nurses does the task in the novel).

9780679421757The greatest (and my personal favorite) change is Daniels’ overall approach to the film: making it essentially a love note to Zac Efron. Gratuitous shots of him swimming or running around in his white briefs make it easy to see what Charlotte found so attractive about Jack. And Efron’s ease with this role shows that he’s really coming into his own as an actor. All of this adds the necessary character development to Jack that is lost from him not narrating the piece.

While I’m the first person to say that you should always read the book first (and I do stand by that), The Paperboy is that very rare exception. If you are interested in reading Dexter’s concise novel then it is best to read that before you tackle the film. But the film is such an amazing roller coaster of an adventure that I highly recommend you see it and don’t even bother with the book, which pales in comparison.