I was unaware being single came with a “how to” manual. Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Alison Brie and Leslie Mann star in How to Be Single.
Cast of Characters:
Alice – Dakota Johnson
Robin – Rebel Wilson
Lucy – Alison Brie
Tom – Anders Holm
Josh – Nicholas Braun
David – Damon Wayans, Jr.
Ken – Jake Lacy
George – Jason Mantzoukas
Meg – Leslie Mann
Director – Christian Ditter
Screenplay – Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein & Dana Fox
Based on the novel How to Be Single by Liz Tuccillo
Producer – Leeny Beller & Dana Fox
Rated R for sexual content and strong language throughout
After dumping her boyfriend Josh (Nicholas Braun), paralegal-in-the-making Alice (Dakota Johnson) moves to New York to finally experience the joys of singlehood. Her coworker Robin (Rebel Wilson), a hard-partying gal who loves no-strings-attached sex, and local bartender Tom (Anders Holm), an equally unattached single man, take her under their wings, both determined to show her exactly how to live it up in the Big Apple.
Meanwhile, Alice’s sister Meg (Leslie Mann), an OB/GYN who wants no kids for about two minutes of screen time until she watches one for like thirty seconds and then decides she does, gets artificially inseminated. And then practically before the pregnancy test can tell her plus or minus, she meets the young and handsome Ken (Jake Lacy) and begins a relationship with him, though fails to tell him the no big deal secret that she’s just a touch preggers.
You know, ’cause rom-coms are required to be built upon at least one lie.
When you take a step back and look at it, How to Be Single is nothing more than a slightly better film version of Sex and the City. To be fair, I was never a fan of Sex and the City so that’s not exactly a compliment. That said, slightly better still ends up being fairly funny, despite all the broken cliches, rom-com pratfalls and far too many crisscrossing characters and storylines, thanks mainly to its cast.
That this film was able to squeeze even just one laugh out of me is somewhat of a miracle. Between the three writers – Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein and Dana Fox – they’re responsible for Valentine’s Day, He’s Just Not That Into You (Kohn and Silverstein), Couples Retreat and What Happens in Vegas (Fox). Not what I’d call a promising resume by any means, but as I just said, the charming cast do what they can to elevate the script, which is based on Liz Tuccillo’s novel of the same name. And in fairness to Kohn, Silverstein and Fox, the pros don’t rest squarely on the cast members. Cliches are certainly fallen prey to and then some, but together with director Christian Ditter, they thankfully don’t go out of their way to play matchmaker with every single character by the end of the film even if it seems like they’re bending over backward to tie up every loose end.
The cliches and third-act ribbon tying, though, are expected if you know anything about the rom-com formula, and provided the film is at least funny, they can be forgivable. Where Kohn, Silverstein and Fox stumble is in the number of subplots they’re trying to juggle. At its core, How to Be Single centers on Dakota Johnson’s Alice and Rebel Wilson’s Robin (who to be honest, might as well be named Rebel Wilson ’cause that’s who Wilson is playing here). From there, the writing trio add on interweaving character upon interweaving character, some of which work and some of which don’t. In particular, Alison Brie is an unfortunate case of the latter. Brie’s always a bright presence that can liven up any show or film she appears in, yet she’s never integrated all that well into any of the other characters’ storylines (despite her disconnect, she and Colin Jost do share a funny scene together in a train station).
Still, even with all its flaws, How to Be Single provides its cast with at least a moment or two to shine. Dakota Johnson, who was the lone and I do mean lone redeeming element of Fifty Shades of Grey, continues to establish herself as a dependable lead actress and provides Alice with a great deal of wit and empathy. Rebel Wilson, as already mentioned, is essentially playing herself, and though Leslie Mann is stuck with one of the more cliche-ridden subplots as Alice’s OB/GYN sister Meg (she’s knocked up in-vitro style and decides not to inform her new boyfriend of what will soon become very obvious within the next few months), the veteran comic actress is still able to prove why she continues to be a go-to for the comedy genre.
As for the ladies’ love interests, they fare somewhat less but still make do with what’s given to them. Out of all the guys, Damon Wayans, Jr. has the most substance as the widowed father Alice starts dating and there are a couple moments opposite his daughter that are genuinely heartfelt. Jake Lacy is undoubtedly faring much better here than he did in last year’s Love the Coopers, which did none of its talented cast members any favors. Anders Holm provides flashes of charm to his carefree, non-committal bachelor Tom, who – big shocker – develops feelings by the third-act. For a brief moment, Jason Mantzoukas had me pleasantly surprised in thinking he was actually playing a normal straight-laced role for once, but then he soon morphs into the predictable erratic loon we’ve seen him play before thousands of times.
How to Be Single not only breaks every single rom-com cliche in the book, it does so by picking them up, throwing them to the ground and then shamelessly stomping on them to bits. Yet though it’s nowhere even close to being the clever genre-subversion it thinks it is, thanks solely to the appealing work from a very talented cast, this film winds up being funnier than it has any right to be.
I give How to Be Single a B- (★★★).
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