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Review: That Awkward Moment's Endless Cups of Coffee

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Focus Features

Do you like food? Do you like movies? Do you like movies about food? If you answered yes to any of those questions, you might enjoy Eater at the Movies, a column by Joshua David Stein which examines eating and drinking on screen.

As one approaches the outer edges of terrible, things get blurry. Just like driving through the space-time donut lane, one moment, you're hurtling in one direction (towards the worst) and then everything around you bends. All of a sudden you're headlong into awesome. At least, I think that's how hyperspace works. That's certainly how some romantic comedies work.

That Awkward Moment, which stars Zac Efron, Michael B. Jordan and Miles Teller as three licentious bros, is currently number three at the box office, behind Ride Along and Frozen. It also has earned a 22% on Rotten Tomatoes. It is certainly a terrible movie but it is also covertly genius.

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The story is flat and undramatic. That Awkward Moment is like mumblecore but with attractive people. Its main characters are three guys who get tons of play, drink tons of whiskey, drink even more coffee, and appear not to eat much. One of them, Jason, is played by Zac Efron, so ... that dude is surrounded by women, no matter what movie he is in. It's inevitable. Mikey (Jordan) is going through a messy divorce (he married too young), so Jason and Daniel (Teller) swear to stay single all together, forever, in solidarity. Obviously, they don't.

The movie's premise is both stupid and unbelievable. It's also insultingly reductivist. Like many of my friends, when I was in my early twenties, I actually did want to be in a relationship. I wouldn't be able to put it in these terms until later but being in a relationship is like having a full-time job versus being a freelancer. Sure, if you break it down by hour, you're probably not getting all that much. However, what you forfeit in excitement, you gain in stability. And, unless you're a really good hustler, you'll make more.

I can't tell if the movie is horrible or if it is a brilliant portrayal of horrible people. The premise is, as I have said, stupid, unbelievable, and cocky-ass bullshit, but it's exactly the kind of stupid, unbelievable poopycock in which a trio of attractive man-children might engage.

Similarly, when looked at from the point of view of what the characters put in their mouths, it's stupid brilliant. Surely no young man — no anyone — could live on a purely liquid diet of coffee and booze. I know it's like a romantic notion of dieting — the Charles Bukowski Diet, perhaps — but these guys are not ulcer-bearing skeletors. They're hot-blooded bros. And bros need to eat, bro.

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Strangely, in this film, they don't. All they do is drink coffee, endless amounts of coffee. I've never seen three guys drink so much coffee before. ever. There are literally — I counted — over 15 scenes where at least one of the three main characters is holding a cup of coffee. Often what happens is that some grouping of the three, or one with his love interest, will be at a cafe — often 88 Orchard in the Lower East Side — drinking coffee, always drip, and then be shown mere moments later, walking down the street holding a coffee cup. This is insane. Who gets coffee to stay and then gets coffee to go?

But, again, underneath the idiocy might be brilliance. Ever notice how some things — like Breaking Bad or Picasso's life — are color coded? That Awkward Moment is actually food-and-beverage coded. When the characters are having coffee, they are engaging in the intellectual pursuits. They are being Apollonian. They have coffees while they discuss their feelings, albeit with varying degrees of self-awareness. They have coffee when they are being sensitive. They have coffee when they're not trying to laid. Except, when they are trying to get laid by seeming not to be trying. Let's face it, they're always trying to get laid. Coffee is the drink of the super-ego.

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What is the id? Alcohol, obviously. And there's a lot of drinking in this movie. Characters have alcohol when they are trying to either have sex with women or wish to bond homosocially. Usually they drink beer. Bottles of Tecate, Budweiser and Heineken — used as a chaser for whiskey — are telltale signs that Messrs. Efron, Jordan and Teller would like to wet their wicks (in sex). Also, notably, they seem to prefer only Bulleit rye whiskey, recognizable from its bottle shape and label color. Jason's lady friend, a young writer named Ellie (Imogen Poots), at one point brings over a bottle of the whiskey, incorrectly referring to it as scotch, which it isn't. But no one seems to mind.

But there's even more to unpack in this seemingly vapid movie. The entire plot — as it is in so many rom-coms — is based on the opposition between male and female archetypes. That's generous, really they're stereotypes and they break down thusly: Men fuck. Women love. Men feel but are ashamed of feelings. Women feel and feel and feel. That's it in a nutshell. Save your $14.50.

But also, women eat ice cream and men drink whiskey. This fact actually plays a very important role in the cliche-marked narrative of That Awkward Moment. Mikey, they guy going through a divorce, shows up at Jason's unrealistically large NoLita apartment with a quart of Ben & Jerry's. He will eat this ice cream because it makes him feel better. Because, like a woman, he eats to relieve stress and emotional turmoil. Jason however says no, Mikey can't eat ice cream. There is whiskey to drink, because that is what men do. And in the words of pre-enlightened Jason, "Whiskey and ice cream don't mix."

That awkward moment when you and bro self medicate with booze and ice cream.

Blah blah blah, a thousand movie cliches later, both Jason and Mikey have experienced the highs and lows of cupid's prickly arrow. Over the course of an hour, they've matured from broys — as boyish bros should be called — into abrolts. Near the end of the movie, Jason and Mikey are sitting on a couch. Jason has a bottle of Bulleit, Mikey has a quart of ice cream. They are in a no-judgment zone. Then Jason asks Mikey for some ice cream and Jason now eats ice cream while Mikey drinks Bulleit. Eventually Jason says, "Actually, whiskey and ice cream do pair well together." Oh, I get it, a man is both feminine and masculine, you dumb-dumbs. It takes one hour and thirty minutes to get there but they finally do.

My only quibble with this ending, this undeniably dull and true ending, is that surely bros such as these have availed themselves of the great gender theorist Guy Fieri, who knows whiskey and ice cream do, indeed, go together. They're delicious combination, and kewl too.

Video: That Awkward Moment Trailer

Rating: Either 1/5 Stars or 5/5 Stars. I can't decide.

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