Movie Review: 'How to Be Single' a Guide for the Unmarried Woman

Movie Review: 'How to Be Single' a Guide for the Unmarried Woman

An engaging turn by rising star Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey) highlights the new singles-night rom-com How to Be Single, but by the end we’re left wishing the film gave her more to work with.

Truth in movie titling: Johnson’s Alice does, in fact, learn how to be single over the course of the film. At the film’s outset, she’s been in a long-term relationship with high school sweetheart Josh (Nicholas Braun), but suddenly decides she needs to test the single life waters and takes a “break” from her long-time beau.

You can guess what happens next: when Alice decides she’s had enough, it’s too late, and now she’s forced to live a life of solitude.

But through new colleague and instant BFF Robin (Rebel Wilson), an on-off fling with bartender Tom (Anders Holm), a vaguely more intimate relationship with single dad David (Damon Wayans Jr.), and a series of re-encounters with her ex, Alice learns that, yeah, being single ain’t all that bad after all.

The journey of Alice’s character is unique in the rom-com hemisphere (and, strangely, has more than a few connections to Fifty Shades) and Johnson is a sympathetic presence in the role – even if her male co-stars aren’t quite up to the task (Holm is too slimy to identify with, and Wayans’ role calls for more emotional range than the comedian offers up).

But here’s the thing – Alice’s story takes up about half of the running time in How to Be Single, as a slew of other characters and their own narratives clog up the rest of the screentime.

Offering some solid comedic support is Leslie Mann as Alice’s sister Meg, a doctor who decides to become a single mother via in vitro fertilization, only to go on a journey of her own when she meets young stud Ken (Jake Lacy). Mann is fun here, as always, but doesn’t have all that much to work with.

Getting an even shorter thrift is Alison Brie as Lucy, who visits Tom’s bar for the free wifi – to browse singles ads. She’s a kinda-maybe romantic interest for Holm’s tomcat bartender, but the film offers her George (Jason Mantzoukas) after a library reading breakdown instead.

Brie (TV’s Community) and Mantzoukas (The League) are wonderful comic performers, each wasted in a throwaway storyline so thin that it could have been left on the cutting room floor and no one would have noticed.

And then there’s Wilson’s Robin, utilized solely as comic relief. The Aussie comic does her usual thing (see also: Pitch PerfectGrimsby) but her nonstop stream of vulgarity feels out of place in the otherwise down-to-Earth narrative. We long had enough of her when the film inexplicably asks us to care about the character.

There’s enough good material in How to Be Single, adapted from the book by He’s Just Not that Into You author Liz Tuccillo, to be worth a look on a lonely night. And while it may not be an overall success, it does nothing to diminish the appeal of its charismatic young star. 

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