‘How To Be Single’: Review by Katie Ewles
‘How To Be Single” is a romantic comedy that is not particularly romantic or funny. From director Christian Ditter, this take on the over-done, ‘me-against-the-world’ story proves all-too willing to entertain the conventions of the modern day Rom-Com, and, completely undermines its potential to effectively communicate a fresh perspective. That being said, the screenplay by Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein, and Dana Fox is surprisingly progressive and provides a non-judgmental take on issues such as feminism, sex (both casual and intimate), the body, and (my favorite), male sensitivity.
Based on the book ‘How To Be Single’ by author, and Sex & the City screenwriter, Liz Puccillo, the film follows doe-eyed Alice (Dakota Johnson) as she embarks on a journey through singlehood after she breaks up with her college boyfriend of four years, nice-guy Josh (Nicholas Braun). Newly relocated to NYC to live with her obstetrician older sister, Meg (Leslie Mann) who is convinced she is too busy for, and much happier without a relationship, Alice meets the exuberant Robin (Rebel Wilson) who acts as her ‘coach’ for being single and provides very little useful advice. Robin eventually introduces Alice to the all-too-determined-to-stay-single bartender, Tom (Anders Holm) who also provides Alice with lots of useless guidance, such as cutting off the water supply to your own apartment so your one-night-stand is forced to leave in the morning to get hydrated (WHAT?!). We also meet Tom’s friend, Lucy (Allison Brie) who is a serial online dater/borderline stalker and also completely irrelevant to anything else that happens in the film. As Alice maneuvers her way through ‘finding happiness being alone’ she also briefly dates single dad, David (Damon Wayans Jr.) however, the relationship is so fleeting that then when the film attempts to make it resonate emotionally through a serious conversation between the pair, it comes off as desperate and depressing.
Let’s recap: we have four girls living in NYC trying to navigate through life and love. Sound familiar? Yes? That’s because it’s the same as almost every other ‘Girl Power’ movie made ever. We also have a whole host of other characters, many which are insignificant to the film’s plot, but for some reason are given a lot of attention. The result is an extremely scattershot film that never fully indulges in any of the ‘same-old, same-old’ ideas it presents. The characters themselves (both lead and supporting) also fall into clear stereotypes and are mostly one-note personalities, which ultimately limits the comedic potential as they repeat characteristic jokes that weren’t particularly funny the first time.
As a result of the stereotypical characters, the actors are type-cast, though they perform well in such familiar shoes: Dakota Johnson comes off as innocent and determined, so we can’t help but to root for her, and Rebel Wilson scores her usual laughs with rambunctious physical comedy, though her body image and size is never actually incorporated as part of the humor, presenting the film’s positive and sensitive stance towards body-image issues facing women. The film also approaches topics of casual/intimate sex appropriately and positively, and conveys the reality of casual sex to be natural and healthy.
The most compelling relationship that evolves in the film is one between Alice’s sister, Meg, and her unexpected boyfriend, Ken (Jake Lacy), who, upon finding out that Meg is pregnant through artificial insemination, surprises everyone by being eager to stand by Meg and her child’s side. Although Meg is strongminded in ‘going-it-alone’, her heart is eventually won over by Ken’s dedication- the most (and only?) romantic moment in the movie. It was great to see so many emotions given to a male character.
The inescapable irony of this film is that the central idea is becoming single and independent, meanwhile all of the action, drama, and plot are fueled entirely by relationships, whether searching for them, or avoiding them. There were a few cute and memorable moments that highlighted the reality of living alone, my favorite being when Alice’s ex-boyfriend stops by her place to drop off her old things and ends up fixing her broken TV that she had given up on, to which she replies in tears “you’re so handy!” Aside from selective moments, incorporating the reality of living alone seemed like more of an afterthought, and proved to be one of the films greatest weaknesses.
Working under the title How To Be Single, this film had the potential to explore and speak out on what is often overlooked in the Rom-Com genre: the importance and value of being single, and learning to be a fulfilled individual. Rather than offering an authentic perspective on such a relatable and meaningful topic, How To Be Single, sadly, wound up relying on safe clichés and a traditional relationship-oriented plot. Ironically, this results in the film completely undermining itself as How to Be Single is about everything but being single.
The end of the film is designed as a ‘celebration of singlehood’, and is really quite moving, though arguably, undeserved: a wide-shot of Alice standing alone over the Grand Canyon, paired with a cheesy voice-over about finding independence and happiness within yourself. The shot was reminiscent of, and perhaps inspired by the Romantic painting “Wanderer above the Sea of Fog” by Caspar David Friedrich, which presents the potential in the unknown and finding inner-meaning. This finale scene, though providing some satisfaction to the viewer aesthetically and intuitively, was extremely ‘engineered’, in that it was clearly designed to produce a ‘tug on your heart’s strings’. It also acted as an easy conclusion, tying together what was otherwise a painfully scattered film with far too many characters.
The verdict: How To Be Single is an up-to-date version of every other chick-flick you have already seen. Though it has its cute and funny moments, it is surface-level on the romantic side of things and failed to make me more than lightly chuckle. It also all-too-easily plays towards ‘Rom-Com’ conventions, which ultimately leads to its paradoxical existence as a film about the importance of being single, while searching for fulfilling relationships. Hmmph.
Watch the trailer for How To Be Single here.
Katie Ewles is a Baltimore-based writer, composer, vocalist, pianist and visual artist. You can find more of her work at www.katiethecreator.com.