Director: Christian Ditter
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Leslie Mann, Anders Holm, Alison Brie, Nicholas Braun, Damon Wayans Jr.
Plot: Alice (Johnson) goes on a break from her long-term boyfriend (Braun) in order to discover herself as a single person. But when she realises she is trapped as a singleton, she begins to panic.
The USP of How To Be Single is that it is a rom-com turned on its head. This follows your stereotypical chick-flick heroine, but rather than charting her life as a girl in the dating game, it charts her enjoying how to be single. The idea is to have a movie about fully-formed female characters, without the male love interests getting in the way. However, while that was clearly the plan, the reality is that, in order to get across this female character struggling at the single life, it needs to bring in her ex-boyfriend, her one-night-stands, her ideal romantic partners – and before you know it, How To Be Single has accidentally lost its edge, falling into the chasm of romantic comedies.
The other major selling point for How To Be Single is that, while Dakota Johnson is clearly the focus of this movie, it does have a host of other characters to follow around. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. The good thing is that whenever the anxious Alice is beginning to annoy you (she panders a little too much to the male characters to be a burning icon of the benefits of single life), there is always a side character with a good story to distract you. Leslie Mann works her damned hardest to save this movie. She has always been a strong source of comedy, so here it is a relief to have her wander into a scene and elevate it with some well-timed charisma. Her character has also puddles of depth rarely afforded to her. As a career doctor who has decided that her professional life is more important to her than pursuing romance, she is constantly telling herself the medical and scientific reasonings for things. She always has an answer to any problem coming her way, but as Mann progresses throughout the film, she begins to lose faith in her own logic. It gives Mann this wonderful arc, where she slowly begins to lose this cool persona and resort to a stammering buffoon. However, for every great character twist, there is a duff one just around the corner. Alison Brie plays the crazy match-maker, who works so hard at finding the perfect man, she never gets lost in the heat of the moment. A male bartender drifts from girl to girl. Rebel Wilson is at her worst here. Grrr, Wilson. I just don’t get it. This is one of those movies that doesn’t so much give her a character or a purpose but dump her usual persona into a movie and get her to react to stuff. The running joke about how she doesn’t care about a long-term future and how she is constantly sexually active wears thin before the movie has even started, which is a shame, because it is the majority of the jokes the movie has in store for you. The bigger issue with the ensemble piece is that, it could be argued that, while everyone gets a character arc, no one gets enough time to do it justice. Alison Brie isn’t necessarily given a duff character, but she always seems like a side thought to the writers, so she never escapes the realms of cliché. Even Dakota Johnson feels trapped by the rushed pacing. One scene sees her share a first kiss with a new lover, only for the very next scene to show her breaking up with that same man. It is a frustrating waste of time and it feels like How To Be Single fell apart somewhere in the editing suite.
It does have its perks though. It begins to land its ending by letting Dakota Johnson’s character arc actually end on a high note. It makes the fact we suffered through her submissive character origins feel worth it, as she has grown by the time the end credits roll. The jokes are also zippy enough, each scene often accompanied by a catchy song that subconsciously makes you forgive the movie’s more glaring flaws. You do want to see the characters get to a happy ending, even if it begins to fall back onto obvious narrative choices. The male womaniser decides that settling down might be okay after all. Couples that were threatening to break make up in the final act. Sometimes the movie just totally perfects a scene. The highlight of the film for me was a touching moment right at the very end when Damon Wayans Jr shares a moment with his daughter.
Final Verdict: Good, but by the skin of its teeth. Too many characters spoil the pot and the jokes have to escape through Rebel Wilson to land.