Movie Review: How to be Single
Romantic comedy drama strikes out in all three departments
Directed by Christian Ditter
With Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Damon Wayans Jr., Anders Holm, Alison Brie
Many people leave college without knowing what they want to be. The film How to Be Single has the same problem. It starts as a serious film about a new college graduate, becomes a sex comedy, tries to be a bittersweet romantic drama, goes back to comedy and then tacks on a meaningful message, as if that was the point all along.
The plot, if one could be so kind as to call it that, focuses on four women whose lives overlap, and to a lesser extent about the men they know.
The main character and narrator is Alice, played by Dakota Johnson, who recently played the lead in Fifty Shades of Grey. She is the every-woman that the audience is supposed to be able to relate to. She pulls the “I want some time apart” routine with her boyfriend, insisting they are not breaking up, and then moves to New York City to do some unspecified paralegal work in a law office. As is typical, she is only in the office long enough for some work-related jokes and a holiday party.
She quickly becomes friends with Robin, played by Australian comic Rebel Wilson who has a big hit with Pitch Perfect.
Next in the female foursome is Meg, played by Leslie Mann, She is the older sister of Alice and a doctor who wants to have a baby but as a single mom, because doctors at a busy urban hospital have enough spare time to raise a baby alone.
Finally there is Lucy, played by Alison Brie. She had a similar role in Sleeping With Other People, another disappointing supposedly romantic comedy about single people in the big city. This time she is caught up in the oh-so-funny world of online dating and spends all of her time using the WiFi in the singles bar below her apartment. She doesn't know the other three women, but Alice and Robin go to the bar and also know the bartender and owner, Tom, played by Anders Holm.
The concept behind the film was that if the audience doesn't like one of the four women, they will like another, and the whole thing will somehow work. Ensemble films like Love, Actually have succeeded on this idea. But that film had some interesting characters, good acting and witty lines.
How to Be Single is lacking in most of those areas. Alice, to nobody's surprise, quickly realizes that semi-breaking up with her boyfriend was a mistake but it is hard to sympathize with her. She gambled on having the best of both worlds and lost.
Her friendship with Robin is hard to explain. Robin is the sort of person most sensible people avoid. She drags her companions from one night club to another ensuring that they show up at work late the next day and too hungover to function.
Why Alice, showing up over three hours late, isn't fired on her second day of work is not explained, but no law firm would put up with that behavior as the firm needs people who appear professional.
Robin even gets Alice kicked out of her cozy living arrangement, yet they go on partying the nights away.
In short, Robin is one of those annoying and pushy people that one can never get away from.
Lucy seems to have more sense than to be lured into a self-destructive relationship but is stuck in one for the sake of alleged comedy.
There are some attempts at racy humor, with Robin teaching Lucy how to use her looks to get guys to buy her free drinks, and other dating tips based on crude stereotypes. The film's actual sex scenes are incredibly tame though, consisting mostly of talk and little action.
The bar owner Tom is actually much funnier and much more sympathetic than the women, though he was not supposed to be. He too has his dating rules built around one-night stands. But when a friend needs him, he is there to do the right thing. He also eventually faces up to his character flaws more realistically than the four female leads and grows as a person.
If the attempts at comedy are a bit clumsy, the drama is downright cringe-worthy. Damon Wayans Jr. turns up as a struggling single father in some incredibly poorly written scenes that switch tone so rapidly he seems to have a split Jekyll-Hyde personality.
As anyone could have predicted, Lucy's boyfriend Josh (Nicholas Braun), the one who didn't want to semi-break up, keeps returning like a bad penny for more supposedly deep scenes because New York, of course, is an incredibly small town where people just bump into old friends at random times when the plot requires it.
He is made to look like a bad person for being mature enough to get on with his life after Alice splits with him.
The film does serve a purpose, though. If you do really want to remain single, you can take a date to it and insist the characters are realistic. It will be your first and last date, ensuring you remain single.
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