HOW TO BE SINGLE Review
Director: Christian Ditter
Genre: Romantic Comedy
The first song you hear in HOW TO BE SINGLE, Taylor Swift’s “Welcome to New York,” tells you everything you need to know about the film; it’s unsurprising and on-the-nose, and everyone involved has certainly done better. The film, directed by Christian Ditter in his first major production, aims to be smarter than the typical romantic comedy. It even poses the question, “Why do we always tell our stories through relationships?” at the beginning, in hopes of preparing you for the Great Rom-Com Revolution of 2016. Ultimately, however, the film fails in its efforts to subvert the genre. Even as fluffy Valentine’s Day weekend fodder, it’s weak and unfocused.
The film largely focuses on Alice (Dakota Johnson), who hopes the single life will bring her to self discovery. Instead, she takes sharp detours with her newly engaged ex-boyfriend (Nicholas Braun), a widowed father (Damon Wayans, Jr.), and Tom (Anders Holm), a bartender whose stay-single insurance policy includes cutting off his own tap so his nightly conquests won’t linger for a glass of water the next morning.
You’ll need to get loaded on your poison of choice in order to get through this film
Soon enough, Alice isn’t living the single life but rather juggling several potential boyfriends. “I don’t know who I am anymore,” she laments after hiding from all three men at her birthday party. Quite frankly, the audience is never sure, either. Johnson might be giving a more dynamic performance than 50 SHADES OF GREY let her (she can even get a laugh!), but there’s only so many ways to dress up cardboard.
Rebel Wilson is criminally underused as Robin, Alice’s best friend and singledom guru. Throughout the film, the crude and morally dubious Robin instructs Alice on how to play the field, with such nuggets of wisdom as never buy your own drink or use emojis while texting a guy. Is it a repeat performance of every character Wilson has ever played? Pretty much. Is it the best part of the film? Absolutely.
Somewhere, Sarah Jessica Parker is kicking herself for not getting in on this
The always delightful Leslie Mann plays Meg, Alice’s older workaholic sister who, despite having proudly delivered over 3,000 babies, doesn’t want kids. Until, of course, she does. She opts to use a sperm donor so she never has to bother meeting the child’s father (ah, to be single!), but hijinks ensue when the decade-younger Ken (Jake Lacy) sets his sights on her. It’s a ridiculous subplot, but ultimately forgivable, as both Mann and Lacy manage to transform their rom-com scraps into something relatively compelling.
Perhaps most offensive is the side plot involving Lucy (Alison Brie, graduate of the Academy for Obnoxious and Charmless Actors), who has created an algorithm that sorts all her perfect matches across ten dating apps into an excel sheet. Lucy is so grating and isolated from the other characters that it’s truly a wonder how this entire subplot wasn’t axed to help ease the film’s bloated running time.
Tfw you realize you should have seen DEADPOOL instead
HOW TO BE SINGLE isn’t so much an education in romantic independence as much as it is relationship propaganda. (Perhaps HOW TO HAVE TOO MANY BOYFRIENDS TO CHOOSE FROM would be a better suited title.) Sure, Ditter and Co. make feeble attempts to modernize the message (who needs a man when you could have a best friend or even a baby?!), but it loses its punch every time Robin advocates waking up anywhere with anyone, so long as it’s not home by yourself. And the moral Alice offers up at the end of the film? Enjoy the single life while you can, because you should be ready to give it up at any second.
The film is perhaps least successful in answering its own question. Apparently, the reason we always tell our stories through relationships is because that’s all there is. If only the film was clever enough to appreciate the irony.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend