Synopsis – There’s a right way to be single, a wrong way to be single, and then…there’s Alice. And Robin. Lucy. Meg. Tom. David. New York City is full of lonely hearts seeking the right match, be it a love connection, a hook-up, or something in the middle. And somewhere between the teasing texts and one-night stands, what these unmarrieds all have in common is the need to learn how to be single in a world filled with ever-evolving definitions of love. Sleeping around in the city that never sleeps was never so much fun.
My Take – Going into this film, I thought this was going to be another one of those ‘chick flicks’ rom coms with the same old love story. And surprisingly, it turned out to be the opposite as it talks about the bitter-sweetness of single life, in a slightly superficial and super funny way. This is presumably a film to showcase the daily events of many single people in heavily metropolitan areas with few cares and big plans every single weekend. Of course, one must reserve some incredulous circumstances that occur in the film as being part of the theatrical spice, but fundamentally, we can hopefully agree that this film looks to profile the kind of debauchery young, single people hope for on their Friday and Saturday nights while they’re not confined to one person. I have no idea whether or not this stuff actually goes on within the singles community in New York. I guess it might. It certainly doesn’t resemble anything any people I have ever known have been involved in. And it has a bad case of identity crisis. On one hand, it tries to be out there, right on, unconventional while, on the other, it also wants to be deeply conventional. So I guess I have to acknowledge that there are at least two of the plot threads which don’t resolve in the way I expected them to. And I also have to acknowledge that the characters in this are mostly quite good company, and I didn’t mind hanging out with them. The film’s pariah world of singledom does the job. At times it’s even vaguely complex in its exploration of paradoxical human needs. It’s also admirably restrained in its condemnation of sexually-active men. Yes, it’s a chocolate box New York and the final message lands like a candy floss hammer, but a fair play for populating the narrative with no clear villains.
The story follows Alice (Dakota Johnson) who met her true love in college when Josh (Nicolas Braun) comes to her rescue during a wardrobe malfunction. Now, four years later, Alice is restless. She loves Josh but feels that they should each “take a break” and experience singlehood for a while. Therefore, Alice takes a new job as a paralegal to a large Manhattan law firm and moves in with her gynecologist sister, Meg (Leslie Mann). On her first day on the job, Alice befriends the receptionist Robin (Rebel Wilson), who is unconventional to say the least. After briefing Alice on the hidden places for trysts at the company building, she educates Alice on “how to be single”. Right away, Alice hooks up with a womanizer barkeep, Tom (Anders Holm). Meanwhile, Tom who had no interest in a long term relationship, unknowingly starts liking a wedding-hungry gal, Lucy (Alison Brie) who meets up with Internet matches at the drinking establishment, as she lives upstairs. While making a date to see Josh again, Alice is startled to learn he has moved on with someone else. Nevertheless, Alice rebounds with a snug new apartment all on her own and a possible new love interest, David (Damon Wayans, Jr). Meanwhile, Meg despite being devoted to her career, wants to have a baby via sperm donor, just as she meets a younger man, Ken (Jake Lacy). Who will learn how to stay content whatever the situation? This dear romance fans, is not your usual’s romcom nor is it in the same mode of an Apatow love story, either. There is a definite vibe of reality in the modern search for a mate so impossible happy ending is not in the works, either. Yet, there is sweetness and kisses between the heartache, making it pleasing to those who adore the genre. The movie seems adamant about convincing you that finding a soulmate is not always the way to go. Or at the very least a diversity of solutions are available to those in search and there’s no single box everyone needs to climb into. It’s a message worth spreading, and while the movie favors to meander down various narrative avenues and dead ends, it does eventually get to the point. I’ll give the film a lot of credit for not falling into the traps of most romantic comedies. That’s not to say that it does in some areas, but often the story will drift into different directions, not letting you sure where things are going to end up. One thing that really emerges from this film is that it is actually funnier than I expected. Some of the comedy really pays off and curiously enough it is always coming from the characters that the film is more interested in. The movie takes advantage of the fact that it’s a comedy and while Rebel Wilson does will with her usual personality you’ve seen before (though without making any predictable fat jokes), I would have not expected Dakota Johnson to be as funny as she was. This is probably one of the few chick flick movies that prove that they can be just as funny as any guy comedy.
A lot of the dialogue reminded me of Bridesmaids and 500 Days of summer. While some situations, especially the sub plot of Alison Brie‘s character, don’t connect to the main story, a lot of it is made up with its own humor. Despite making jokes about romance, it accidentally follows some romantic film clichés like falling for someone too quickly, but they don’t happen too often. Among the performances, Dakota Johnson is fine, even if she has the air of a dramatic actor shoehorning herself into comedy. Despite being the lead, her character is the most directionless. Confused between three guys, her arc takes a long time to find a resolve in the last few minutes before the end credits roll in. Her chemistry with Nicholas Braun works the most. Rebel Wilson does her usual competent-slacker shtick here, and continues to help prove her case as the funniest woman in Hollywood right now. Rebel Wilson‘s character represents a self-indulgent approach to the single life and much like the Alan character in The Hangover series (2009-2013) she gets all the funny lines and isn’t a character but an agent of chaos. She’s also best appreciated in small doses which the movie wisely obliges. Alison Brie‘s character is the complete opposite matching Wilson only in the level of broad-stroke characterization. If the movie was wholly about her, I would have simply found her too shrill to endure. Though I will say that her chemistry with potential love-interest Anders Holm is likable. Jason Mantzoukas as always is funny. Ironically while the film tries to subvert conventions it was Leslie Mann‘s character that makes the most poignant transformation. She plays a career oriented doctor who is keen on the idea of having a baby thus goes to a sperm bank with the intention of having a child on her own. Predictably she falls in love with someone and has to keep her pregnancy hush-hush for a while. Her chemistry with the youthful Jake Lacy is likewise a fun little respite from the film’s narrative sloppiness. Damon Wayans Jr is wasted. On the whole, ‘How to Be Single’ is a surprisingly worthwhile film despite its various flaws. It remains reliably funny throughout with various riffs and wisecracks provided by Wilson, Holm and the always charming Mann. It’s nothing crazy that we haven’t really seen before, but in some ways it is. It’s surprisingly not very predictable and its humor plays on self-awareness. Just get past the first act and it’s pretty much smooth sailing from then on out.
Directed – Christian Ditter
Rated – R
Run Time – 110 minutes