I think the recent rom-com How to be Single needed to spend some more time alone with its screenwriters before being made into a feature film, because a film like this has so many great ideas with which to play. But due to a weak script, the film is not allowed enough room to breathe fresh life into the genre.
Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey, Black Mass) leads a great ensemble cast as Alice, a young woman who decides to take time off from her relationship with Josh (Nicholas Braun) in order to find her true self. She gets a job in New York city as a secretary for a law firm, where she meets wild and crazy Robin (Rebel Wilson). Meanwhile, Alice’s obstetrician sister Meg (Leslie Mann) plans to have a baby at her late age, if she can find the right sperm donor. While the three of them navigate love in the city, Lucy (Alison Brie, Sleeping with Other People, The Lego Movie), who invented an algorithm for finding love via online dating lives above Tom’s bar, where the bartender-owner, Tom (Anders Holm, Workaholics, The Intern), dishes out advice on hooking up.
Over the course of the film, all these characters mingle and meet up with some interesting people along the way. One of the funnier relationships that develops is between Lucy and Ken (Jake Lacy, Carol and Love the Coopers). At one point, Ken buys Lucy chocolate and almost convinces Lucy to buy a Christmas tree. Lucy then rants about her distaste for Christmas trees and segues into why they probably shouldn’t think long term. But Lucy’s reservations don’t discourage Ken, and like a loyal puppy he sticks by her. In a montage, Lucy arrives at her apartment door to find a plastic tree and Ken hiding behind it to surprise her. This moment and others like it help to solidify Lacy and Mann’s on-screen chemistry, making their relationship the most natural and defined of all the relationships in the film.
The cast is quite good in their roles, especially Anders Holm, whose character Tom is the complete opposite of his stay-at-home-father character in The Intern. Tom is one of those guys who enjoys the perks of bachelor life and does everything to keep his life relationship-free. It is endearing, yet overly-saccharine, when he begins to have a change of heart toward the end of the film. In another noteworthy turn, Damon Wayans Jr. plays David, a father still grieving over his wife’s death while trying to raise his young daughter. His scenes with Dakota Johnson are full of energy and emotion.
How to be Single has been compared by other reviewers to Sex and the City. However, this is an unfair comparison because, given how modern relationships are constantly evolving, How to be Single encapsulates the inner feelings of its characters and the culture it projects with ease. The team of screenwriters nail the current dating dynamic, but it is a shame that many of the jokes fall flat. When a character starts to hypothesize about whether or not Italian male genitalia looks like cannoli, you know you’ve hit a low spot.
With some truly endearing moments and a great ensemble cast, How to be Single aims high but ultimately falls short. Early in the film it is stated, “This is not a love story,” a phrase we’ve heard before in the superior (500) Days of Summer. The film also lacks the genuine pathos of the recent Sleeping with Other People. Even though some of its sentiment rings true, clichés abound in this occasionally heartwarming tale of finding love and one’s self.
How to be Single
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Alison Brie, Leslie Mann
Directed by: Christian Ditter
Written by: Abby Kohn and Mark Silverstein
Running time: 109 minutes