How to Be Single: Playing by the Rules, by Rudie Obias
The romantic comedy is probably one of the most alienating film genres out there. Along with horror, they’re made for less money than any other film genre, they’re full of terrible clichés that make them really predictable and unexciting, and they have a stigma to them because they don’t appeal to young teenage boys (God forbid!). But every now and then, a rom-com comes out that changes what we think of the genre as a whole. Sadly, How to Be Single isn’t that movie, but it comes incredibly close to subverting your expectations.
The film is somewhat of an anthology with separate storylines that intersect with each other but centered on Alice (Dakota Johnson), a Wesleyan University graduate who takes a short “break” from her long-term boyfriend in the pursuit of finding who she really is as a person. She makes the move from Connecticut to New York City and takes a job as a paralegal in a swanky law firm. That’s where she meets Robin (Rebel Wilson), a confident woman who is the life of the party and loves to be single. With her help, Alice learns the true meaning of the title: How to Be Single.
Along the way, the film diverts from Alice’s story to her sister Meg’s (Leslie Mann), a workaholic pediatrician, who struggles to find herself as an aging single woman. The film also follows Tom (Anders Holm), a bar owner who sleeps around from woman-to-woman, Lucy (Alison Brie), a neurotic woman obsessed with finding Mr. Right, and David (Damon Wayans Jr.), a single father learning to cope with the death of his wife, as he struggles to open up to women and his cute 6-year-old daughter.
How to Be Single is charming yet conventional while also being inspired yet too run-of-the-mill. The film struggles to find itself at almost every turn. When it introduces a rom-com trope, it quickly moves away from expectations, but then settles in to fulfill them. The movie zigs when you think it’s going to zag, which is actually refreshing. But you’re ultimately disappointed when the movie ends up zigging after all. It really seems that the filmmakers really wanted to make something special, but felt restraint to keep on target as a generic romantic comedy. The end result is a somewhat satisfying and somewhat disappointing as a hodgepodge of a movie. How to Be Single just doesn’t go far enough with its exploration of being single in New York, having casual sex, or how to handle complex and adult relationships when they are presented.
Yet, I found myself actually enjoying the film despite its flaws because of its structure and charming cast. Dakota Johnson goes a long way in gracefully balancing wide-eyed and awkward single to expertly navigating her life in New York City. She has a knack for sprucing up a humdrum film into something that’s at least watchable (IE Fifty Shades of Grey). In addition, filling the movie with interesting and lively actors also goes a long way. It seems that director Christian Ditter looked to the winning personalities of the small screen to pepper some excitement on the big screen. Actors like Damon Wayans, Jr. (Happy Endings), Alison Brie (Community/Mad Men), Anders Holm (Workaholics), and Jake Lacy (The Office) as Meg’s much younger boy toy all bring some needed zing to the film while SNL’s Colin Jost and the always delightful Jason Mantzoukas make fun extended cameos too.
How to Be Single is just too down-the-middle. There are so many moments that could’ve been wonderful, but somehow it gets in the way of itself. It’s by no means lazy either. There are sequences that are very clever and fun, but it just seems this material would be better suited with a strong director behind-the-scenes. And that’s what’s the most frustrating, it’s a movie full of ambition with big laughs and touching moments, but instead comes off as awkward in execution. Although How to Be Single isn’t exactly a winning date, it would be perfectly acceptable for some real “Netflix and Chill.”