An adaptation of a best-selling novel that uses almost none of the original source material, How To Be Single is a predictable romantic comedy with filthy edges and decidedly mixed results.
After four years in college and one lengthy relationship, Alice (Dakota Johnson) wants a break. She doesn’t want to be single just yet, but she does want to know who she is on her own. After landing a job at a law firm in New York City, Alice packs her bags and begins what she believes will be an exciting new adventure. She soon meets Robin (Rebel Wilson), an outrageous co-worker who enjoys partying and one night stands, and the quickly become friends. Robin shows Alice a side of life she has never known, which in turn exposes Alice to a side of herself she’s never previously known.
Alice’s Sister, Meg (Leslie Mann), is a few years older and fiercely independent. She put off kids and family in order to better pursue her own interest, but lately she has been feeling a call to motherhood that is entirely foreign to her. With no man in her life, Meg decides to become pregnant through a sperm donor, and just after receiving the news she will soon be someone’s mother she meets Ken (Jake Lacey), a handsome young bachelor.
Lucy (Alison Brie), who has no attachment to the other characters, does not want to waste her time on men who do not fit her very specific preferences. She is looking for marriage material, and to help improve her chances of finding Mr. Right she has designed an algorithm that maintains profiles on 10 different online dating services. He best friend, a bar owner named Tom (Anders Holm), believes her to be crazy. In fact, he thinks most women are crazy. He’s the kind of guy who believes he “tells it like it really is” and he helps Lucy to better understand the truth when it comes to men.
These three stories are intertwined throughout How To Be Single, with three separate celebrations at a local bar serving as pivot points for the three acts. Each narratives hopes to capture a different perspective on the realities of modern romance, as well as life outside relationships, and they each find varying levels of success in their pursuit. Aside from Tom’s bar, which serves as a recurring hot spot for partying, there is nothing tying all three stories together. This wouldn’t be a problem if each thread lead to meaningful results, but that is unfortunately not the case. Instead of making you think about the way your perspective changes when faced with life outside of a relationship, How To Be Single cannot help fantasizing the crazy possibilities of being single. There are still consequences for actions, and those consequences often help drive the narrative, but when all is said and done this film is largely a sex-addicted romcom with pseudo-inspirational bookends. It yearns to be groundbreaking and edgy, offering a rarely explored female take on the old trope of doing whatever you want while young and living with large amounts of disposable income in an unreasonably oversized New York City apartment, but it’s simply not that.
What saves How To Be Single is its cast, even though Dakota Johnson may be nearly as weak as the script. Rebel Wilson, having long proven her comedic chops with Pitch Perfect and the final Night At The Museum, shines as the film’s biggest comedic relief. Her dramatic counter-balance is Leslie Mann, who has to balance a far greater range of emotions than any other character on-screen. Between Meg’s newfound pregnancy, new romance and the concern the she may be far too old for both, Mann has to be both fragile one moment and unflinchingly confident the next. The dialogue doesn’t do her or anyone else many favors, but she sells every line as if it we gold.
It’s worth pointing out that How To Be Single has its fair share of interesting single men as well. In addition to the Tom and Ken there’s also a young widower and single father named David (Damon Wayans Jr), a young man who doesn’t know what he’s got until it’s gone named Josh (Nicholas Braun), a curious book store owner named George (Jason Mantzoukas), and a cast of recognizable faces who come and go as bad dates or suitors for the various leads (including appearances from Saturday Night Live favorite Colin Jost and Undateable star Brent Morin). These characters are developed even less than the leads, but each actor’s presence in the story adds a nice compliment to the strong female cast.
If How To Be Single’s script were as good as it’s cast the latest film from director Christian Ditter could have reached cinematic heights like Bridesmaids, but instead it wastes great talent with a ho-hum script that falls far short of its popular source material. There is heart to be found in this film, but it’s so lazy in its execution that it hits with zero effect on the viewer. Aside from a few great gags that come far too late in the story there is nothing in this film anyone will remember in six months’ time. This is the kind of film you watch on a rainy day when you’ve already binged the latest Netflix original series and you have nothing better to do with your recently heartbroken friend(s). It won’t change anyone’s life, and you may find yourself distracted by conversations about all the more interesting things everyone in the cast has done before, but it may offer a short escape from heartache that includes intermittent laughter.