How to be Single, 2016.
Directed by Christian Ditter.
Starring Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Alison Brie, Leslie Mann, Anders Holm, Damon Wayans Jr., Jake Lacy, Nicholas Braun, and Colin Jost.
New York City is full of lonely hearts seeking the right match, and what Alice, Robin, Lucy, Meg, Tom and David all have in common is the need to learn how to be single in a world filled with ever-evolving definitions of love.
I know what you’re probably saying; “How to be Single, I don’t need a movie to tell me how to do that”, but toying with that convention of romantic comedies is what sets this one apart from the pack, and makes it one of those rare star-studded ensemble cast features actually worth watching. It really is refreshing to have a movie of this genre in which the perks of being single are explored, also in numerous different ways, rather than having its protagonists search for the love of their life for two hours.
It also helps that all of the actors involved are given roles that directly play to their strengths. Rebel Wilson does serviceable work as the wild one of the group (even if her routine of physical comedy is getting a little tired at this point, especially considering her character is much more interesting when not acting like a buffoon), Leslie Mann is great as a grumpy doctor that doesn’t see the point in relationships or having children, Dakota Johnson elicits many different emotions as a confused young woman not really sure what she wants, along with so many other surprisingly good performances. Damon Wayans Jr. also has a minor role in a small subplot that, in the moment seems superfluous and adds nothing, but by the end becomes one of the most fascinating pieces of character development in the movie.
How to be Single is also simply just a well-written film. It doesn’t go for as much low-brow humor as you would expect judging from the trailer, but instead likes to use all of its intertwining characters and stories to again, just explore the different lifestyles, benefits, and freedoms of being single. However, that doesn’t mean none of the characters actually never find love; some of them actually do, and that actually helps keeps the movie unpredictable in a way, as you aren’t really sure which characters will end up with who.
The ending is actually quite subversive for such a mainstream genre, catching me off guard in quite a few places. It’s also not really concerned with happy or sad endings, but depicting situations in a realistic manner (you’ll probably feel that some characters were better off with others, happy in some instances, and feeling bummed at other points), which also gives the movie some emotional substance. I never expected yo be critical of these characters in a caring way coming in, but color me wrong.
It is however, a bit of a mess considering that there are six major characters that the movie can never really find a fluid groove to tell its story around. Even leading actors like Rebel Wilson occasionally go missing in action for 15 minutes at a time, leaving you wondering if perhaps How to be Single is too ambitious for its own good. Some characters (namely Alison Brie playing a hyper young woman in New York obsessed with utilizing online dating to find her perfect match) get very little screen time in general, which is unfortunate because some are more endearing and charismatic than others.
Could the filmmakers have added more scenes and extended the running time? Absolutely, but the problem is that the movie already borders on two hours long,, beginning to drag its feet during the middle act. Theoretically, the movie probably would have benefited from more time in the editing room to take out scenes that fall flat and to insert others that do work, but admittedly some of the project is just inherently doomed, as spinning a web around six single people in New York City was always going to be incredibly difficult to balance.
There are also quite a few annoying narrations from Dakota Johnson. She delivers all the lines well, it’s just that the speeches in general feel tacked on and don’t really add much to the experience. The ending montage would have worked even better without her character essentially telling you how you should feel about each situation. Not only is most of it completely obvious anyway, but the movie also works better when you’re allowed to take whatever you want from it thematically.
Still, in the end How to be Single is actually better than most probably expected it would be; it has some good low-brow laughs mixed with a smart and subversive story that features interesting characters and recognizable faces putting in the good work that’s typically expected from them. It’s also nice watching the romantic comedy formula (probably the most stale and bland genre there is) get shaken up, even if not every trope is avoided.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★