How to Be Single and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures
Directed by Christian Ditter
Oddly enough, the really terrible Valentine’s Day film already came out with The Choice a week ago and this movie seems less interested in that market than it is in going after the Pitch Perfect or Sisters audience (hence the reason why Rebel Wilson is so prominent in the advertisements). While I’m glad that this movie was not selling itself as an overly sentimental low budget Chick FlickTM, what it WAS promising didn’t look all that… well promising. Still, trailers can be misleading and it does have Leslie Mann who’s always fun to watch on screen. Does this turn out to better than expected, or is this just a low brow cash grab trying to ride a trend that’s already been defined by much better movies? Let’s find out!!
The movie is about four women for the most part. We’ve got Alice (Dakota Johnson) who’s just moved to the big city and has taken a job at a law firm where Robin (Rebel Wilson) works and the two of them become fast friends as the latter teaches the former how to loosen up a bit and learn how to be a single lady. We’ve also got Meg (Leslie Mann) who is Alice’s sister and she has decided that she wants to have a kid and find a way to make it work as a single parent with a demanding job as a doctor, while also making sure her younger sister doesn’t get into too much trouble. Off to the side (definitely the least important part here) is Lucy (Alison Brie) who… I guess just wants to meet a guy? I don’t know, there’s this thing about her finding an algorithm to find the perfect man, but that kind of drops off. Her character basically gets subsumed by the local bartender anyway (Anders Holm) and, despite the poster, she has zero interacts with our three other leads. Anyway, Alice’s big crisis is that she decided to put her current relationship with Josh (Nicholas Braun) on hold as she wants to experience single life before deciding whether or not she’s ready to settle down with him yet, but you can probably guess that those plans go pear shaped rather quickly and so she has to adapt to being single as a way of life rather than as an experiment. Will Alice eventually find out how to live her life for her and not define it by the relationships she has with other men? Will Meg be able to handle all the responsibilities of being a single mother? Does Deadpool end up being the better romantic comedy!?
The trailers for this movie did a TERRIBLE job explaining what the hell this is. It is NOT a gross out comedy or even all that raunchy or offensive, Rebel Wilson is a secondary (almost tertiary) character in this which was a smart move considering how easy it is for her to wear out her welcome, and it has much more to say than any of the advertisements are letting on which show this to be a shallow romp around New York with Rebel Wilson dragging Dakota Johnson along for the ride. However, just because it’s not the awful movie it was selling itself as, that doesn’t automatically mean that it succeeds at what it IS trying to be. It works more than I would have expected, but I think its ambition far exceeds its grasp which leaves us with a muddled mess that works in pieces but just couldn’t come together into anything meaningful.
Let’s start with what works. All the actors (yes, even Rebel Wilson) are very good in this. Dakota Johnson is eminently likable as the naïve twenty-something who just got to the big city (just how she pictured it; skyscrapers and everything) who gets reality checked six ways from Sunday throughout the course of the movie. Hopefully with more decent roles like this, she’ll be able to avoid the Kristin Stewart sinkhole of being tied to a terrible franchise (in this case Fifty Shades of Grey) that will haunt her career for years to come. Alison Brie and Rebel Wilson are fine in their roles, but they’re much smaller compared to Dakota Johnson which I think works for the latter but is detrimental to the former. Alison Brie’s character just feels out of place as her story starts as a prominent part of the picture, but then it kind of recedes into the background for so long that her story switches focus to the bartender (Anders Holm) and she ends up being a supporting role in what was initially her own plot line. She’s fine for the little screen time she has, but her character is also one big control freak cliché complete with the requisite freak out scene.
The one who really steals the show here is Leslie Mann as Dakota Johnson’s sister who has decided to have a baby by way of artificial insemination and a good part of the movie (second biggest next to Dakota Johnson’s) is watching her cope with this change as well as try to have a few hook ups with this impending life event on the horizon. Leslie Mann is The Best, and the fact that the rest of the world has not realized this will go down as one of humanities darkest moments (maybe). It’s not like she’s an obscure actress who hasn’t been in anything in a while, but she really should be leading her own movies instead of having to be in supporting roles all the time. She’s great here and steals every scene she’s in with her expert comedic timing, commanding presence, and inherent sweetness that just draws you in as you pay rapt attention to everything she says and does.
Everyone else does fine, but nothing special. I guess Damon Wayans Jr shows some emotional depth here, but his storyline is probably the most problematic of the movie (we’ll get to that eventually) so despite it being well executed, his performance falls flat because of the character he plays in this story. On top of the solid acting, the story does manage to be sincere when everything we saw leading up to it led us to believe otherwise. Characters make mistakes and there are awkward moments throughout, but they’re shown to be worthwhile experiences to learn from rather than opportunities for lame jokes. Sure, there are lame jokes throughout most of this, but even if you aren’t into the humor it all feels like it’s building to SOMETHING or that it has significance to how the characters will grow and change. I was trying to think of a movie to compare this to, and the only ones I could really think of were When Harry Met Sally in regards to its focus on character growth over time, and Manhattan mostly due to the movie practically being a love letter to New York in the guise of a romantic comedy. Is this movie anywhere near those two films in terms of quality? I wouldn’t say so, but then I feel I might not have been the target audience for this and so I never got much to connect with to these characters (other than Leslie Mann who we have established is The Best) but for someone who does this might be one of the better examples of the genre in a long time and might be considered a modern classic for many.
Not me though because despite its sincerity and loving touches, it’s a complete mess that never bothers to set up proper conflicts in order to have as many conflicts as possible in the hopes that some of them will stick. Dakota Johnson’s story is just not all that interesting or unique and her problems are miniscule compared to what she DOES have. Somehow she can afford to live in NEW YORK CITY and we never have any indication that she doesn’t like her job. She’s got a best friend who’s wild but still helps her have an active social life, and her sister is close by in case she needs anything. Her romantic life is a mess at times, but even that isn’t a problem that needs to be fixed right now. Unlike Leslie Mann’s story about a HUGE life change that’s about to happen, Dakota Johnson doesn’t have a reason to rush into things or solve her love life anytime soon, and while I guess that’s the moral of the story, I don’t think we needed almost two hours for her to realize it. Even if this lighter type of movie is appealing to its target audience, it’s still pretty damn deficient in an editing sense. The whole movie feels like a six part mini-series that was hacked by a machete to somehow become feature length (or a novel where they could only adapt half the scenes), and the result is a movie that never really gets going because none of the conflicts have satisfying arcs and are just either non-starters or the climax without the buildup. The worst example of this is Damon Wayans Jr subplot which could have been an entire half of this movie if not a movie in its own right. Dakota meets him at one point fairly early on but after meeting a second time they decide to start dating. The moment they have their first kiss we literally get a title card that says THREE MONTHS LATER where we see the final day they are together. Now it’s no surprise that Damon Wayans Jr has a daughter as that was something he mentioned prior to the time jump, but then all of a sudden where thrown into a situation where he decides to break up with her because he feels she’s getting to close to his kid. I’m sorry, what? Did the film just lose a reel or something? The break up holds zero weight because we spent less than a minute on their relationship as they had decided to fast forward us to the ending. His character has a conclusion (separate from Dakota Johnson) which would be sweet as he bonds with his daughter, but it’s useless because we don’t know these people. That’s the worst example, but the movie pulls stuff like that all the time such as when Alison Brie falls off the movie entirely (and that’s NOTHING compared to the bullshit they pull with Rebel Wilson’s character at the last minute that has zero bearing on what we already saw and what happens after that ‘twist’ is revealed). If the movie had narrowed its focus, it could have earned the emotional beats that it’s trying so hard to achieve, but because it wanted everything it got almost nothing.
The movie is fine and is much better than I had ever expected it to be, but it’s also not that great and is notably flawed in some key areas. With a tighter script and better editor, this might have been a minor classic, but as it is it just ends up being a decent film for the New Year Doldrums. It’d probably be worth checking out if you know you enjoy these types of romantic comedies, but for everyone else the best would be to wait for a home release just so you can skip to the Leslie Mann bits. Once again; she is The Best.
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