How to Be Single (2016)
Welcome to the party
Regardless of what its title suggests, How to Be Single does not offer any unique insights into singledom or the life of a single person (trust me, I would know). Quite frankly, this assorted chocolate box is brimming with characters who spend the majority of their free time looking for love, hooking up, breaking up or obsessing over finding that significant other — a far cry from reality (again, trust me, I would know). And yeah, while these people are all technically ‘single,’ no one’s really ever alone. What this singles-baiting dramedy does do however is paint solo life in a positive light, its self-affirming message coming squarely from its gooey caramel center. If one chooses to ignore the poorly photoshopped poster and ‘Galentine’s Day’ alluring all-female starring cast, How to Be Single is also quite relatable (in a universal sorta way), as I’m sure we’ve all journeyed through the choppy waters of break ups and make ups and (strangely) even come out alive.
Dakota Johnson plays the central character of Alice, a fresh-faced twentysomething who decides to temporarily break things off with her long-term college boyfriend Josh (Nicholas Braun) in order to relocate to the Big Apple and find herself. Once there, Alice gets a job as a paralegal and moves in with her older sister Meg (Leslie Mann); a gynecologist who’s sworn off having kids until she spends a few moments with an adorable baby, then begins to consider the notion of bringing up children as a single mother via IVF. Alice also befriends wild Manhattan co-worker Robin (Rebel Wilson), an unruly party gal who guides Alice through the dos and don’ts of single life — from how to score free drinks to text message protocols. The final piece of the female-centric puzzle is Lucy (Alison Brie), a woman who’s on a pragmatic online dating mission and uses stats and algorithms to find the city’s most eligible bachelors — Lucy’s hilarious peanut demonstration is a real winner!
Based on the novel by former Sex and the City (1998) writer Liz Tuccillo (who also co-wrote the book He’s Just Not That Into You), the screenplay by Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein — the pair responsible for penning the film version of He’s Just Not That Into You (2009) — and Dana Fox, Couples Retreat (2009), is presented through intersecting storylines and multiple angles — similar to (you guessed it) He’s Just Not That Into You, albeit better; this in part being thanks to German director Christian Ditter, Love, Rosie (2014) who seals the deal with a cinematic kiss. In his first American feature, Ditter keeps things bright, lively and entertaining with glistening fairytale-esque shots of a flashy neon glowing New York City, vibrant consumes by Leah Katznelson, 21 Jump Street (2012), and an inspired pop heavy soundtrack — even if Taylor Swift’s ‘Welcome To New York’ and Hailee Steinfeld’s ‘Love Myself’ are anything but subtle. Furthermore, Ditter isn’t interested in jokes that cater to the lowest common denominator, as almost every gag here works as a sharp observation of today’s frenetic hook-up culture.
Young up and comer Dakota Johnson, Fifty Shades of Grey (2015), delivers the best performance of her early career, oozing genuine wit and intelligence while presenting the contemporary dating scene through the eyes of our protagonist, Alice — her impersonation of Rebel Wilson isn’t half bad either. While on the topic of Rebel Wilson, Pitch Perfect (2012), the Australian comedian really shines too, with Wilson’s flamboyant, vulgar Robin, popping up in precisely the right moments to get viewers’ blood moving, her improvisation work constantly hitting its target just like Cupid’s arrow — a scene where she explains the pros and cons between Alice and Meg during a picnic, for example, is side-splittingly funny. The perky Alison Brie, Sleeping with Other People (2015), does the best she can with her comic portrayal as the no-nonsense dating machine Lucy. Living in the apartment above Tom’s bar (where the gals generally like to hang out), Lucy mainly shows up to use Tom’s free WiFi and has little interaction with the rest of the women (as stated earlier, ignore the poster), these factors making her storyline feel somewhat removed from the wider narrative — the fact that she’s missing in action for large chunks at a time doesn’t help either. Last but not least, Leslie Mann, Funny People (2009), anchors the story as the foursome’s most mature member Meg, Mann’s sense of humor and drama grounding the flick.
On the other side of the coin, the male players are nowhere near as well-realized as the females. Anders Holm, The Intern (2015), probably fares best as the hunky bartender Tom, a philandering flirt who lives by a love ‘em and leave ‘em type of philosophy — a guy who’s gone so far as to cut his own water supply to prevent thirsty, hung-over women from hanging around his place till morning. Damon Wayans Jr., Let’s Be Cops (2014), plays against type as one of Alice’s love interests David, a single father who’s dealing with a ton of emotional baggage, particularly when it comes to his daughter Phoebe (Zani Jones Mbayise), this storyline adding some extra depth to proceedings (albeit unnecessary). Jake Lacy, Carol (2015), is obviously having the most fun as Ken, a younger man who’s crushing on Mann’s Meg, while Jason Mantzoukas, Neighbors (2014), does his usual comic shtick as a bookstore employee named George, who falls head over heels for the spirited Lucy.
In sum, How to Be Single isn’t as good as say, Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), and sure, it doesn’t reinvent the rom-com wheel or anything but this harmless little scattershot picture (that’s tailor made for Millennials) finishes by taking a road less traveled, which is probably what the romance genre needs right about now. At the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with a flick that’s visibly made for singletons who just want to live vicariously through a bunch of on-screen people, characters that can lose a partner and not be phased about it seeing as they’re sure to find another (better) companion in a matter of days. Sigh. I wish real life were like the movies!
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Mr. Movie
How to Be Single is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia