‘How to be Single’ Surprisingly Delightful, Charming (FILM REVIEW)


You sift through a lot of crap when you review movies for a living. The constant barrage of substandard films designed only to ensure profit margins are met and the masses are satisfied can be jading; it’s easy to fall into the trap of expectation. Sometimes you look at a movie and, try though you might to stay objective, you can’t help but roll your eyes. “Oh great,” you sigh. “Not another one of these movies.” And so it was that I sulked into the theater, steeling myself for the inevitable badness that seemed to emanate off of How to be Single.

To my surprise, my talents of cinematic precognition were more than a little off base. They were flat out wrong. How to be Single is far from the massive pile of infected human waste I was anticipating. Rather, it’s a delightfully charming modern parable that effectively subverts the normal tropes that usually befall romantic comedies. Prepared though I was to hate it, I found myself smiling throughout, laughing out loud on more than a few occasions.

Which isn’t to say there’s not plenty to turn your nose. The hopelessly snobbish will find more than enough material to nitpick and rip on. It’s not, by classical definitions, a “good” movie; if your tastes tend towards the arthouse and the pretentious, you will find nothing of value here. But being “good” and being “enjoyable” aren’t always the same thing. How to be Single may not be destined for any awards or even much acclaim, but as “just a movie” it succeeds about as admirably as can be hoped.

Dakota Johnson plays Alice, a fresh faced young college graduate who prepares to make her way in the world by insisting that she and her long term boyfriend Josh (Nicholas Braun) begin their adult lives by taking a break. Alice is immediately confronted by three female rom-com tropes masquerading as characters—the party loving wild card Robin (Rebel Wilson), her sister Meg (Leslie Mann) as the workaholic professional who doesn’t have time for a man, and the hopelessly searching for Mr. Right, Lucy (Alison Brie)—as she learns to navigate the ins and outs of the single and social scene of the Big City. Along the way, she meets a few typical male tropes, like the successful and professional David (Damon Wayans Jr.) and the hopelessly single bachelor Tom (Anders Holm).

The character and situational tropes both Alice and the audience are confronted with serve almost as varying kinds of guideposts on her journey to find herself. As intriguing as a romance from any of her suitors and sexual partners might be, the real romance is between Alice and Alice. As with life, she cannot learn to love her partner if she does not first learn to love herself, and here is where How to be Single inserts its subversion.

It’s refreshing to watch a rom-com where, no matter how hard the heroine might pine for a prince charming, she ultimately holds back from the pitfalls of coupledom in favor of becoming the kind of person she wants to be. Too often, romances are quick to imply that a person is, somehow, not entirely whole until they find their other half. Here, the idea of another half is rendered moot. Alice’s main focus is on becoming whole within herself.

While I cannot rightly say the movie is completely original or unpredictable, the script, written by Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein, and Dana Fox, is full of innate charm and genuine hilarity that help propel the movie both forward and upward. Based on the “chick lit” novel by Liz Tuccillo, How to be Single is a mostly believable and realistic portrayal on the perils of being single and the dating scene. Director Christian Ditter manages to capture the ups and downs of the lives of single women in ways that never feel patronizing, giving the movie a welcome earnestness over its rom-com competition.

The ultimate delight in How to Be Single comes from the charms of its cast. While each of them might be playing to familiar archetypes, they all seem to be actualized characters in their own rights. Wilson might feature heavily in the movie’s ads—and she is quite funny—but it’s Mann who steals the show. With her quirky dryness, she delivers much of the movie’s best material and nearly everything that comes out of her mouth is appropriately hilarious. Brie, whose role is small, often feels as though she’s playing a more mature version of Annie from Community, but it’s a role she plays so damn well that it’s hard not to love. Even Johnson shines, proving that there is life after the abyss of 50 Shades and her journey towards loving herself is always compelling to witness.

What’s ultimately compelling, however, is how the movie manages to be raunchy without losing its central femaleness. Two of the biggest female-centric comedies of last year, Trainwreck and Sisters, failed in my eyes due to their insistence upon making characters behave in ways that most male-centric gross out romps do. How to be Single never tries to hang with the boys and instead blazes its own path, creating a film that exalts femininity while also rollicking in the raunch.

How to be Single might be just a fluffy and forgettable film ripe for girls night out, but it’s completely genuine in its intentions and lives up to its promises in most ways. At an hour and fifty minutes, it very nearly overstays its welcome, and a there are a few scenes that seemed to drag, but it’s never detrimental to the film as a whole. It’s the perfect date movie—not for you and your significant other, but for you and yourself or you and your closest friends. If you’re sitting around this weekend, bemoaning your lack of a Valentine’s date, see this instead. You might just learn to embrace your life unattached, and be inspired to find meaning in your life without another half.

How to be Single is now playing in theaters everywhere.

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