Director: Christian Ditter
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Brie Larson, Leslie Mann and Rebel Wilson
Running Time: 110 minutes
Release Date: February 19th
‘If you’re not having fun being single, you’re not doing it right,’ the trailer for this ensemble comedy boldly proclaims, and overall, How to Be Single bears out this message, presenting a single life as one of choice, possibility and self-actualisation. Ok, so the utopian outlook of its sister romantic comedies is still there, but from a slightly different perspective, and an especially welcome one considering that this film is largely about unattached ladies, and the idea of a single white female was once so dangerous to mainstream audiences, that we got a horror movie named after her.
The film opens with Alice (Johnson) breaking up with her long-term boyfriend and moving to New York to ‘find herself.’ But rather than moving through the first two stages on the Elizabeth Gilbert scale of self-discovery, Alice skips the eating and praying and gets right on down to the loving, taking often-contrasting advice from her older sister Meg (Leslie Mann), and dedicated singleton Robin (Rebel Wilson) on liberation and libation in the big city.
Alice’s encounters with a young widower (Damon Wayans Jr.) and the local playboy bartender (Anders Holm), who in turn is really pining after the wifi stealing barfly Lucy (Alison Brie), open the film up to a broader view of single life and offer a range of perspectives on not just how to be single, but how to be single and happy. This range is admittedly a little limited – would it hurt to feature one gay single person? – but has a generically-defiant tone when it comes to casual sex, single parenthood, and interracial relationships. Even the plus-size figure of supporting cast member Rebel Wilson, made characteristic of pretty much every other movie or TV role she has ever had (‘Fat Amy’, anyone?) is never mentioned or used against her character here for cheap laughs or to contrast with a more ‘acceptable’ body type. And in these small ways, How to Be Single succeeds.
In at least one considerably larger way, casting Dakota Johnson, an actress with oft-overlooked comic ability, is another success. Her niche is polite discomfort, which is fortunate for someone who’s been cast in at least two more of those Fifty Shades movies, but it’s a mode that is endlessly useful in a comedy, and produces a lot of the really funny moments in this film.
The best that can be said about rest of the cast is that they necessarily play to their strengths, as the characters here are so thinly drawn as to afford them none.(A shoutout to Jake Lacy, previously in Obvious Child, an actor clearly carving out a niche for himself as the adorable hapless boyfriend of a newly pregnant woman.)
The film starts to come apart by devoting entire subplots to these thin characters, messing with the film’s structure in a way that is neither radical or satisfying. Wayans’ and Brie’s ‘online dating’ and ‘single dad’ stories feel so dispensable that they could lift right out, the latter working almost to close the movie in a way that feels emotionally manipulative and weightier than the thin outlining of his character really deserves.
The title How to Be Single evokes the language of self-help. However, while these characters may be single, they are rarely alone. While female friendship is championed throughout, if somewhat hollowly in parts, and at least two characters find closure and fulfilment through new romantic relationships, and two through having children. I guess it’s How to Be Single, not How to Stay Single. This all feels a bit more conventional than how Alice’s own tale wraps up and I can’t help but feel that her story deserves more than a clichéd montage and voiceover narration dedicated to her non-sexual single pursuits.
How to Be Single may work to set itself apart, and has some genuinely bold, funny and touching moments, but it simultaneously does too much and not quite enough to stand out in its field.