Monday Movies: That Awkward Moment and Labor Day

Film reviewer suggests Awkward screenwriter spanking gives comedians a heads up for fodder in Labor Day's misguided sexy-pastry fail

That awkward movie

Although neither gender comes off well in That Awkward Moment, it’s definitely the men who have more apologizing to do. Better make that boy-men, as this is yet another bromance comedy – think Friends, but with more dick jokes – that features commitment-phobic 20-something guys wallowing in the shallows of hook-up culture.

Awkward is the fairy tale of three best buds who live in New York, but seemingly many miles from reality. First there’s Jason (Zac Efron), a smooth operator who has just met the rather perfect Ellie (Imogen Poots) but can’t exactly figure out how she can be made to fit into his score-then-move-on lifestyle. Then we have Daniel (Miles Teller), a sarcastic slacker who has somehow persuaded a sexy gal pal named Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis) to act as his “wing man” and help him pick up pliable ladies in bars. When these two suddenly start crushing on each other, predictable complications ensue. Finally we have Mikey (Michael B. Jordan), a lonely doctor who got married young and whose gorgeous wife doesn’t seem to love him anymore. All that’s left is for the director to add alcohol, stir in lots of crass jokes of the sitcom variety, and then have our immature protagonists embarrass themselves repeatedly before achieving a few feel-good insights by movie’s end.

Awkward and derivative, this romcom by first-time writer-director Tom Gormican aspires ineffectually to being a latter-day Jerry Maguire. The performances are fine, sure, but in between the forced laughs you will keep asking yourself why these smart women are so ready to settle for such dismal dudes. And Gormican deserves to be spanked for exhuming the cliché of the disgraced ex-lover who wins back his girlfriend by making an elaborate apology to her in front of a large audience. With any luck, this will just be a bad memory by Valentine’s.

Rating: ★ ★

Laboured day

Labor Day, a cross between a coming-of-age story and a romantic drama, has no ambitions other than to be a soapy melodrama. Kate Winslet stars as Adele, a single mom who has sunk into a deep depression after being abandoned by her husband several years earlier. She’s looked after by her 11-year-old son, Henry, a wise-beyond-his-years lad who brings her coffee in bed and helps with the shopping and banking. The plot starts humming when Adele and Henry are kidnapped by an escaped prisoner named Frank (Josh Brolin), a scary-looking dude who wants to hide in their house overnight.

Despite having murdered his wife, Frank proves to be the kind of remarkably decent guy who pitches in with house repairs and car maintenance – without even being asked. Even a depressed woman can’t help but feel a few stirrings with such hunky husband material suddenly within reach. Then comes the sure-to-be-spoofed scene where, with their slippery hands sliding sensually over and under each other, Frank tenderly teaches Adele how to make a peach pie. Boy but things are getting HOT in the kitchen! Of course, with roadblocks all over town and a manhunt underway, you know that this is one true love the course of which will not run smooth.

Told from the son’s point of view, and narrated by the adult Henry (voiced by Tobey Maguire), Labor is superficial, heavy-handed in its symbolism, and prone to second-rate psychologizing. And the film’s resolution simply defies belief. It’s impossible to imagine that anyone watching this sappy exercise in Harlequin Romance-style wish fulfillment could guess it was directed by Jason Reitman, the cinema hipster whose previously impeccable oeuvre ranged from Juno to Up in the Air.

Rating: ★ ★

(Labor Day continues at the Odeon & Westshore; That Awkward Moment continues at SilverCity & the Westshore)

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