Longtime readers of the site are familiar with how often it’s lamented that seemingly no one can get the romantic comedy right. There’s practically a ticker tape parade when someone does, and the most recent wait continues with the confused and sloppy How To Be Single. Billed as Valentine’s Day counter-programming of sorts and aimed squarely at the single women crowd, the movie is unfocused, horrifically shot and edited, and not nearly as raunchy as it thinks it is. It’s probably a bad sign when the love story in the weekend competition, the cynical and hyper-violent Deadpool, is more cohesive and heartfelt.
Dakota Johnson, somehow remaining ever-so likable even after last year’s Valentine’s Day weekend punishment, Fifty Shades of Grey, and this, stars as Alice. As the film opens, she’s just met college sweetheart Josh (Nicholas Braun). Fast forward four years and, despite the fact that Josh seems like a pretty solid dude, Alice decides she needs to move to New York to live on her own for a bit. They’re taking a break, Friends season three-style. Upon starting her job as a paralegal, she meets Robin (Wilson), a care-free spirit who gets drunk and laid just about every night. It’s not long before Alice adopts her lifestyle, hooking up with the neighborhood bartender, Tom (Holm). Oh, and she’s living with her sister, Meg (Mann), an obstetrician who insists on remaining single even as she discovers she wants a child. There’s also Lucy (Brie), who believes she can find the right man using her own algorithm on dating sites.
All notions of How To Be Single being about female empowerment are out the window about ten minutes in. For a movie that hedges its title and marketing on being a celebration of single life, just about every character spends every waking moment trying to find the right guy. That’d be fine if their behavior made any sense. Shifting moods and motives constantly, How To Be Single never establishes firm footing. The raunchy elements are well-worn territory, right down to a woman’s water breaking while standing on a sidewalk (yep, still not funny). Scene after scene is written to the tune of a sitcom where one straight sentence would solve everything. It doesn’t help that director Christian Ditter has assembled the finished product as nearly incomprehensible from a time standpoint. Only a smattering of holidays gives any indication as to how much time has passed between events.
It’s tough to see a sound and talented cast stuck with such poor writing and direction. Johnson once again escapes unscathed, portraying an otherwise smart (even though she can’t figure out how to turn off closed-captioning on her TV) and savvy woman who’s pretty bad at choosing friends. The door is closing quickly on Rebel Wilson’s schtick, whose character is never developed beyond dick jokes until it’s way too late. Leave it to Alison Brie to deliver what is easily the film’s funniest moment when discussing what online dating is really all about for her after getting dumped.
What’s most frustrating about How To Be Single is that with a proper rewrite it could have been a smart and insightful look at the joys and hardships of being single in 2016. Instead the writers and director took the lazy route, offering up tired comedy tropes and breeding nothing but contempt for most of the characters through erratic and nonsensical behavior. File it away in the crowded “what could have been” folder for a genre that continues to struggle to provide anything resembling consistency.
Studio: Warner Bros.
Length: 110 Minutes
Rating: R for sexual content and strong language throughout.
Theatrical Release: February 12, 2016
Directed by: Christian Ditter
Written by: Abby Kohn & Marc Silverstein & Dana Fox. Based upon the book by Liz Tuccillo.
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Leslie Mann, Alison Brie, Anders Holm