Are We Officially Dating?, the first feature from writer/director Tom Gormican, and otherwise known as That Awkward Moment pretty much everywhere but Australia for some reason (had they already shipped the prints?), is a valiant attempt to remake the romantic comedy in the image of men.
Which means that the three male leads are the centre of this admittedly formulaic story, with the romantic convolutions, tried and true as they are, told from their perspective, the women essentially floating in and out of the storyline as needed.
And for a while it all seems to work a treat.
The three charming and handsome male leads – Zac Efron as commitment-o-phobe and talented book cover artist Jason, Miles Teller as best friend and “plain Jane” sidekick Daniel, and Michael B. Jordan as Mikey – surge into the opening scenes of the movie as if they own the place.
Jason particularly is hard to ignore.
Bright, effervescent, witty and possessed of a seemingly endless series of hip wardrobe options,he is the ultimate New Yorker man about the town.
He has a successful, if creatively unsatisfactory, career as a book cover designer at one of those loft-occupying firms that seems to exist in multitudinous profusion in romantic comedies, is able to create a presentation out of thin air that wins over sceptical clients, and is never short of a sparkling bon mot (or three thousand).
He has it all, except of course the emotional wherewithal to commit to an ongoing, meaningful relationship, to the unending frustration of the never ending parade of women willing to submit themselves to his distracted attentions, which includes, after one of those impossibly witty exchanges with a total stranger that we all wish we were capable of at a moment’s notice, Ellie (Imogen Poots).
Mikey (Michael B Jordan) by contrast is a man devoted to doing the right thing.
A doctor, he is married to the beautiful Vera (Jessica Lucas) who he discovers early in the film, is not as devoted to fidelity and “ticking all the boxes” as he is.
While he does expend considerable effort during the film to win her back, the prospect of any kind of happily ever after is dim at best, and after railing at the universe for failing to reward his lifelong acquiescence with everything expected of him, he falls into the kind of funk that beer and night outs bar-crawling are unable to fix.
Daniel, the third man in this bromance of the perpetually single, is somewhere in the middle.
Addicted to the thrill of the chase, with the aid of his wingman (or in this case wing-woman) Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis) with whom he eventually falls in love, he wants the love, marriage and the whole white picket fence but not enough to do much to attain it.
At least not while Jason, who is the unofficial alpha male, and influence of the group, holds sway.
He is the one both men heed, even of Mikey is prone to laughingly refer to both he and Daniel, father fittingly much of the time, as “idiots” and so when he proposes a pact that they all stay single in solidarity with lovelorn Mikey for as long as they possibly can, they go along with it.
Cue the almost instant unravelling of this most sacred of bromantic commitments.
No sooner have the three friends shaken hands on the deal, a laudably noble pact undergirded by their usual odd mix of raunchy talk and heart to heart chats, than Jason falls for Ellie (and yes blows it in a way so utterly insensitive that it beggars belief that anyone could be so thoughtless and uncaring), Daniel realises Chelsea is his “wing-woman” for life, and Mikey sets to winning back estranged wife Vera.
Hijinks, romance and more of the fantasy fabulous witty banter that is one of the few truly outstanding aspects of the film, ensue and it looks like our guys are one their way to love true love.
But wait this is a formulaic romantic comedy, slavishly adhering to the genre’s conventions and so the three pals keep their romantic successes secret from each other, until of course it all comes out into the open at the worst possible moment – in Daniel’s case a very underdressed moment – and all the relationships are imperilled.
Fun though Tom Gormican’s screenplay is – tips on how men under the influence of Viagra should use the toilet are genuinely hilarious and provide some lovely Efron and Teller guy candy glimpses – and genuine and winning though the chemistry between the three males is, Are We Officially Dating?, comes across as a rather underwhelming affair throughout.
The female leads are little more than paper thin props for the narrative, Jason’s treatment of Ellie at a critical juncture in her life is unrealistically cruel and her subsequent forgiveness of him unbelievable, and while Daniel’s relationship with Chelsea is sweet and tender, it is given little time to breathe next to Jason’s romantic missteps.
Superficially enjoyable, largely thanks to clever casting and genuinely clever, fast paced dialogue, Are We Officially Dating? ‘s movement of the romantic comedy set pieces is often clunky and belaboured – you can almost hear the narrative wheels rustily turning – and ultimately unsatisfying.
I don’t doubt that a man who has such a talented way with words like Tom Gormican won’t make a spectacularly engrossing and clever movie one day very soon.
Are We Officially Dating? though unfortunately is not that film, even if it is perfectly timed for the supposedly most romantic day of the year.