How to Be Single (Warner Bros., R)

In a fit of irony, the very thing that might keep people away from this movie, Dakota Johnson, is easily one of the best things about it.

How to be single

Poor Dakota Johnson. Despite writing this review prior to How to Be Single’s release, I’ve already heard multiple people say that they are suspicious of the movie, merely because she’s in it. She’s a promising young actress who effectively martyred her career to star in last year’s Fifty Shades of Grey, and there’s no good reason why anyone should be afraid to see a movie she’s in. But to compound this fear in the everyperson, How to Be Single is this year’s big Hollywood Valentine’s Day romance release, and Fifty Shades was last year’s, thereby making Ms. Johnson the unofficial Valentine’s Day mascot. Which is to say, the new Katherine Heigl. That’s not something anybody wants to be.

And regardless of your feelings for Johnson, look past her at the rest of How to Be Single’s cast—the other leads are Rebel Wilson, Leslie Mann, and Alison Brie, all likable and capable comedic actresses. It should be enough to give you hope that How to Be Single isn’t going to completely suck, anyway.

So, does it suck? Nope. It’s hardly great, but it’s, at least, fresh-feeling enough to not make you really hate everything. Our de facto hero is Alice (Johnson), who’s on a break from her college boyfriend Josh (Nicholas Braun), not so much because she wants to break up with him, but more because she wants to live alone and find out who she is before settling down into a familiar role, like “wife” or “mother.” Since she’s not rich and lives in New York, this means she goes to crash with her OB-GYN sister Meg (Mann), whose characterization is a little too transparent and quirky in that she spends her life delivering babies, but herself doesn’t really like babies and does not want kids. (Non-spoiler alert: After an encounter with a cute baby toward the beginning of the film, she decides she wants one after all.) Alice gets a job at a law firm where she promptly meets Robin (Wilson), who goes clubbing and finds someone new to sleep with every night. Meanwhile, Ms. Brie plays the marriage-obsessed Lucy, who doesn’t fit too cleanly in with Alice’s story, so much as she runs in the same circles as Alice and Robin do, and is therefore around a fair amount. Beyond our four leading ladies, of course, there’s a revolving door of potential romantic interests, but happily these never play out quite as obviously as it seems like they’re going to.

In a fit of irony, the very thing that might keep people away from this movie, Dakota Johnson, is easily one of the best things about it. She, alongside her three co-stars, have very good comedic timing and make the most of what is often a pretty bad script, with poor characterization and no substantial insights where there should, at least, be a few. With a different cast, this could have been a much worse film than what it actually is. Strangely, though, the script itself does have promise, and one wonders if this couldn’t have been a surprisingly good film if only a little more work had been put into it. Specifically, it’s hard not to appreciate the fact that this, the aforementioned big studio-released romantic comedy timed for Valentine’s Day, is actually a mostly legit celebration of singledom. Furthermore, a lot of the plot is centered around holidays, but it jumps directly from Christmas to St. Patrick’s Day, skipping Valentine’s Day altogether. In this subversiveness How to Be Single tries, and partially succeeds, in aligning itself with atypical romantic comedies of the past ten or so years, such as The Break-Up or I Love You, Man. And while it doesn’t always succeed, it’s refreshing at least to see a film of this sort attempt to break its genre constraints. | Pete Timmermann

 

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