Certain types of film are made to be awkward. From the American gross-out likes of American Pie and There’s Something About Mary to the neurotic ramblings of a twentysomething, speech impedimented mumblecore (and their nods to the king of awkward comedy: Woody Allen), these films delight in making you cringe and claw at your cinema seat.
But what about those films that unintentionally make you squirm: the bad actor, the terrible pun or that naïve yet offensive use of prosthetics (cough cough, Cloud Atlas). Then there’s all the full-frontal, getting down ‘n’ dirty scenes that always seem to start about five seconds before your parents/ respected elder walks into the room to catch you sweating, nervously clicking forward on a suddenly non-functioning remote control. If you’ve ever had a DVD freeze up on you, on taken someone on a date to see a film about love withering slowly, then this list is for you.
The gross food scene in The Idiots (Lars von Trier, 1988)
Von Trier’s first film made under the “Dogme 95 Manifesto” is a perfect lesson in awkward from a director who really doesn’t want to make it easy for you. A group of adults get together in protest of bourgeouis repression by releasing their “inner idiot”, i.e. going for the jugular of un-PC behaviour, and behaving as if they’re developmentally disabled. Full-frontal nudity, verbal slurs, gang bangs, the awkward arrival of a parent: Von Trier’s got it all. Oh god, that final scene…
Travis takes Betty to a porno in Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)
What makes this disastrous date so prize-winningly awkward a watch? Probably the fact that we’re inexplicably rooting for Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) to succeed in taking his dream girl Betty on a romantic date, even as we know its going to end in tears. While we see and feel the horror of Betty’s reaction, Travis’ inability to understand why that would be dodgy is also kind of heartbreaking. For other bad and awkward dates, read this here thing.
The awkward dinner date with Marianne in Shame (Steve McQueen, 2011)
Steve McQueen’s honest portrayal of a young professional’s struggles with loneliness and sex addiction is a brutal watch. There are too many awkward scenes here so I’ll keep it short. The awkwardness pretty much starts with a flash of Fassbender in the first minute and ends with a sad and furious slow-motion, ahem – climax. But let’s just focus on that rippingly stressful date with Marianne (Nicole Beharie). Someone needs to give that annoying waiter a minor character prize.
Mavis ruins her ex-boyfriend’s baby shower in Young Adult (Jason Reitman, 2011)
Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) is one of the most painfully awkward and bitchy characters to have had the opportunity to be caught on screen. The worst – her drunken verbal explosions at her ex-boyfriend’s baby shower, as everyone in her hometown looks on aghast. Genuine seat-clawing stuff, this.
The awkward wedding toast in Melancholia (Lars von Trier, 2011)
Parents making speeches are always car crashes heading for disasterville. In Von Trier’s apocalyptic wedding epic, sad new bride Justine (Kirsten Dunst)’s parents make a horrendous wedding toast to the not-so happy couple. Clearly both at war, a reminder to “enjoy it while it lasts”, carries a double meaning. The traditional marriage ceremony is made to look a laugh a minute.
The awkward family dinner in 2 Days in New York (Julie Delpy, 2012)
Julie Delpy’s second ode to Woody Allen and life in the big city features another awkward dinner party (after a pretty stressy one in her first film), this time between her unspeakably gauche French family and her boyfriend Mingus (Chris Rock). Casual racism, sexual innuendo, and massive family feuds ensue. Poor Mingus.
The “hair gel” in There’s Something About Mary (Bobby Farrelly, 1998)
Any number of gross-out American comedies would aptly fit the bill. But Mary’s semen-hair-gel is one of those comedic-cinematic fixtures that will rarely be bettered.
The apple strudel in Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009)
Nazi Hans Landa (the excellent Christoph Waltz) orders a glass of milk in the brilliantly tense opening scene. As a Jewish family hide silently in the basement, he slowly and awkwardly sips his milk. Fast forward many years, and Soshana and Hans are having the world’s most awkward apple strudel. Ooh, I know what would be nice with that: a nice jug of cream.
The apple pie in American Pie (Paul Weitz, 1999)
And for our second awkward, fruit-based desert scene in film: you all know the one.
Hugh Gant bumbling in Four Weddings and a Funeral (Mike Newell, 1994)
The inclusion of Hugh Grant in any film is guaranteed to notch it up the awkward stakes, as everyone’s favourite bumbling fop has delivered many a great rambling five-liner in the name of love. Here’s one way to say I love you.
Dawn Weiner’s dance in Welcome To The Dollhouse (Todd Solondz, 1995)
Todd Solondz is an absolute master of capturing the painful shyness and dark repression of suburban American life. His films are littered with angry, bullied or perverse young people who make everything more than just a little bit tense (think Happiness). Here’s Dawn Weiner, the myopic braceface anti-heroine of Solondz’s blackly humorous coming-of-age tale, doing a cringe-inducing dance to her heartthrob’s band. With music that terrible, who can blame her?