Ah, February. Valentine’s Day is around the corner, which should mean that love is in the air. This is the time of year when romantic sappiness gets a little more leeway than usual. While I was expecting How To Be Single to be a gushy romantic comedy, it turned out to be fairly level headed in its love proselytizing. The film somehow sticks to its premise of legitimate singledom, rather than preaching monogamy.
The story begins with an adorable meet-cute. Alice (Dakota Johnson) is trying to open the door to her dorm when she mistakenly drops her towel. Like a knight in shining terrycloth, Josh (Nicholas Braun) runs to her rescue and holds up his own towel to help her maintain her modesty. Of course, he does so without thinking because he is now nude in the hallway. Cute, right? Fast forwarding through four years, Alice and Josh are still together but Alice needs a break. She is going to move to New York, and needs to find out who she really is as a woman, and not as a half of a pair. She is the one who convinces Josh to take a break. Hesitantly, Josh complies with the separation.
As promised, Alice moves to the big city, makes a party-loving friend, Robin (Rebel Wilson), and gets her groove on for a few months. When she decides she wants Josh back, she is crushed to hear that he is actually seeing someone else. Though she was technically single before this, the reality of being alone sets in and suddenly she is not sure what to do.
Rather than strictly sticking to Alice’s story, How To Be Single also dances around with related single stories from people who are tangentially linked to Alice. Alice’s sister, Meg (Leslie Mann), decides to have a baby on her own, just before meeting a great but very young guy (Jake Lacy). Lucy (Alison Brie), hits it off with the cute bartender, Tom (Anders Holm), but ultimately wants more commitment from her suitor.
All of these stories swirling together give How To Be Single a good amount of room for variation in its definition of a “happy ending.” For some characters it is love, for others acceptance, and for a few gaining insight into themselves is what they were hoping to get out of life. It was refreshing to see a film not treat a single character as a social pariah, or a problem to be fixed. In fact, Alice’s insistence in pairing off with Josh or Tom is seen as more problematic than her independence. The wishy-washy stance by the film on the topic of romance ultimately feels the most honest.
Where the film does slip-up is its invention of conflict. In the film’s climax, Alice’s massive rooftop birthday party, all of the characters are in one place for the first time. The confident and happy Alice is suddenly mortified that her exes may talk to one another. Though they seem totally fine to finally meet, Alice is inexplicably suddenly ashamed by her previous beaus. This certainly moves the scene forward, but comes from nowhere in regards to her character. Also, Alice and Robin have a fight near the end of the film that has nothing to do with their relationship and is quickly resolved. Perhaps director Christian Ditter could not quite figure out how to move a plot along when all of the characters are good people.
The other issue in How To Be Single is the reliance on Rebel Wilson to carry all of the humor. Though she has proven herself to be a great comic, the material here is not nearly as funny as it thinks it is. Scenes with Robin tend to go on a little too long, and turn in to a series of related jokes that should have been left to the DVD extras.
Even with these issues, How To Be Single is a likable, though ultimately vanilla romantic comedy. For young women setting out on a journey to “find themselves” (whatever that means) it is good to see a movie that gives them plenty of life stories to relate to, all with different but mostly happy endings.
Director: Christian Ditter
Damon Wayans, Jr.
Film Length: 110 minutes
Release Date: February 12, 2016
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures