Director: Christian Ditter
Cast: Rebel Wilson, Dakota Johnson, Alison Brie, Leslie Mann, Damon Wayans Jr.
Runtime: 1 hr 50 mins
Rating: NC16 (Sexual References)
Released By: Warner Bros
Official Website: http://howtobesinglemovie.com
Opening Day: 18 February 2016
Synopsis: There’s a right way to be single, a wrong way to be single, and then…there’s Alice. And Robin. Lucy. Meg. Tom. David. New York City is full of lonely hearts seeking the right match, be it a love connection, a hook-up, or something in the middle. And somewhere between the teasing texts and one-night stands, what these unmarrieds all have in common is the need to learn how to be single in a world filled with ever-evolving definitions of love. Sleeping around in the city that never sleeps was never so much fun.
For a movie that seemingly celebrates singlehood, ‘How to be Single’ spends a lot of time in familiar rom-com territory.
Based only so loosely on Liz Tuccillo’s 2008 novel of the same name, it eschews the book’s globetrotting trek in favour of a ‘Sex and the City-like’ setup where four single women attempt to navigate relationships, careers, and one-night-stands in bustling, metropolitan New York City.
Anchoring the quartet is the sweet, idealistic Alice (Dakota Johnson), a recent college grad who decides to take a break from her longtime boyfriend Josh (Nicholas Braun) to explore the single life by moving in with her older sister Meg (Leslie Mann) and getting a job at a law firm. It is at the law firm that she meets Robin (Rebel Wilson), a promiscuous party animal who gives her a crash course in hook-ups and hangover recovery.
Meanwhile, her sister Meg is a career-oriented obstetrician who has a life-changing moment when left to briefly care for an adorable infant; her maternal instincts unleashed, she decides to have a child via an anonymous sperm donor. And rounding out the group is Lucy (Alison Brie), a hyper-intense woman so motivated to find the right one to settle down that she has developed an algorithm to trawl through dating sites in search of eligible men.
The only relation that Lucy bears to the other female players is Tom (Anders Holm), the owner and bartender of a hip neighbourhood watering hole where Alice and Robin go to on a regular basis to pick up guys and where Lucy meets the dates she has shortlisted. Incidentally, Tom is also a believer in casual dating, and is just as happy explaining the rules of the game to Alice as he is being her occasional sexual partner as she flits in and out of a number of unlucky relationships.
Whereas ‘Sex and the City’ had the benefit of multiple seasons to develop its characters, there is no such luxury here; even then, there is little excuse for how thinly defined the ladies are. Not surprisingly, Alice is the most fully formed character of the lot, and she does no better than trying to get over Josh (who has since moved on with a new girl named Michelle), hooking up occasionally with Tom, and dating briefly a single dad (Damon Wayans) she meets at a networking event who hasn’t quite gotten over his ex-wife. Meg, on the other hand, spends her time getting together and then trying to break up with a younger guy Ken (Jake Lucy) who is madly (and persistently) in love with her – and let’s just say that their relationship tug-of-war ends up exactly how you expect it to.
Alas, Robin and Lucy fare even worse. The former is called upon only when the movie needs a comic relief, and the exceptionally funny Wilson is unfortunately criminally wasted as the goofy sidekick who delivers the script’s wittiest zingers and little else. The latter is utterly extraneous to the whole enterprise, a marriage-minded Type A cliché whose presence goes little further than a couple of bad dates at Tom’s Bar before meeting the Right One in the form of the owner of a local bookstore (Jason Mantzoukas) where she has a meltdown while reading to a group of young children.
That the scattershot plotting turns out modestly engaging is thanks to the infectious energy of its female cast, who bring some much-needed verve to their limited roles. It’s a familiar routine, but Mann proves that her edgy, self-aware and high-strung act as Meg can still be hysterically amusing, such as when her character is confronted by Ken in a mothers-and-babies department store. Wilson is fearlessly funny playing a sex-ed up version of her ‘Pitch Perfect’ persona with bawdy glee, and it is probably no surprise that she is singlehandedly responsible for the most outrageous moments in the film. Next to two high-energy performances, Johnson admirably holds her own as the sensitive, thoughtful complement, occasionally letting an easy-going offhanded charisma emerge from an otherwise more nuanced act.
So while it does make clear its ambition at the start to subvert the typical rom-com, ‘How to be Single’ seems content to wallow in the same genre tropes most of the time. Only at the end does it actually begin to embrace singlehood as an opportunity for self-discovery, but we suspect by that time that most would have already dismissed it as having pulled a bait-and-switch. That is at the very least mildly disappointing, for there is so much more that its talented cast could have done than play a bunch of stock characters from the rom-com playbook. This isn't about how to be single more than it is about how to find love in New York City - and the irony is that Carrie Bradshaw had already shown us how to do both just as well a long time ago.
(Despite an infectiously engaging cast, this supposed celebration of singlehood is no more than a standard-issue rom-com and a poor cousin of 'Sex and the City')
Review by Gabriel Chong