For some reason, the annual Valentine’s Day weekend romantic comedy offering tends to be a bit better than usual for a February release. This year, we have How to Be Single, a messy but mostly enjoyable rom com that will likely find an audience this holiday weekend. The film does want to have its cake and eat it too, moving from raunchy girl power comedy to sexual longing to relationship goals and back again, trying occasionally to wring some emotion from the crowd. Director Christian Ditter as well as scribes Dana Fox, Abby Kohn, and Marc Silverstein are less concerned with plot coherency than with getting from one pleasing scene to the next. The cast is appealing, led by Dakota Johnson, and they do what the can, but whenever they can’t just coast on charm, things in How to Be Single get a bit rocky. To be fair, the best sequences really do make you laugh out loud or tug at your heartstrings exactly as designed, but they’re sporadic with a ton of filler. How to Be Single probably will succeed as a decent enough date movie, but it’s just not up to snuff for a recommendation.
The premise here is that we’re following a group of single New Yorkers as they navigate various aspects of the romantic scene, be it dating, hooking up, or trying to just live it up as a single man/woman. There’s our protagonist Alice (Johnson), her older sister Meg (Leslie Mann), best friend Robin (Rebel Wilson), bartender Tom (Anders Holm), the desperate for marriage Lucy (Alison Brie), and more, all of them trying to figure out their lives. Alice is newly single after asking longtime boyfriend Josh (Nicholas Braun) for a break once college ended. She moves to the city and falls in with co-worker Robin, who is always the life of the party. They party around town, oftentimes at Tom’s bar, where Lucy tends to hang out. Tom is only interested in no strings attached fun, while Lucy is all but planning her future wedding. They all intermingle, with Alice’s sister Meg having other thoughts on her mind, like whether or not to become a mother. Things jump around time wise, focusing on different characters, but things always come back to Alice.
Even if everyone in the cast has done better work previously, they all do manage to show off their charm, which goes a long way here. They all have excellent chemistry with each other. If there’s an exception, it’s Rebel Wilson, who is more annoying than anything else, but if you tend to be a fan of hers, it’s more of the same. Dakota Johnson shows some comedic chops, but she’s also playing just a variation on a certain other innocent she recently essayed. They get plenty of screen time, which showcases their particular skill sets, but it comes at the expense of Alison Brie and Leslie Mann, who are under utilized and far more interesting characters. The aforementioned Nicholas Braun and Anders Holm are bland, while other players like Jake Lacy, Jason Mantzoukas, and Damon Wayans Jr. are more or less wasted, even if they do have small moments to shine.
You don’t go to see a movie like How to Be Single expecting amazing direction, and that’s good, because Christian Ditter is a fairly uninspired filmmaker. Ditter seems to love up close hand held shots, but the genre isn’t a fit for it, so there’s really no point. This is a better film than something like the ensemble piece Valentine’s Day, but that’s not an especially high bar to clear. With only one exception at the end, it’s at its best when not trying to be serious.
When one gets right down to it, a rom com like How to Be Single mostly just needs to not suck in order to succeed, so in that regard, this film works. If you want something more, this really isn’t up to the task. With expectations managed, this is actually kind of decent. I’m not recommending How to Be Single, but I am saying that if you wind up seeing this flick, you might not hate it. Damning with faint praise? You bet I am.
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!