By Mark Saldana
Rating: 2.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
With Valentine’s Day coming up, I don’t find it too surprising that a film labeled as a romantic comedy will hit theaters in time for the celebration of love. The trouble with most romantic comedies, though, is that these films are often formulaic and loaded with clichés. Still, this probably won’t deter some people for heading to the theater for a date night, in hopes of fanning the flames of their romance. How to Be Single really isn’t the most romantic movie for this purpose, though. The title says it all. It is meant to serve as a guide to owning one’s single status and stop falling into a pattern of bad relationships. That is what sets this film apart from the usual rom-coms. The problem, however, lies in the fact that the writers still manage to embrace some of the usual elements commonly found in genre. That’s what keeps the film from rising above the typical romantic comedy and makes it another mediocre entry.
Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey) stars as Alice, a young college graduate who decides to be single for the first time in her life. Just prior to graduation, Alice breaks up with her college boyfriend Josh (Nicholas Braun) to “find herself” and learn to be more independent in her life. She soon discovers the single life is not so easy and finds herself lost in a scene full of opportunities for bad decisions and awkward hook-ups. Alice’s older sister Meg (Leslie Mann) doesn’t offer much help, as she unhappily remains too focused on her career to even have a dating life of her own. Alice’s wild co-worker Robin (Rebel Wilson) lives the single life to the extreme, partying hard and hooking up with men on a regular basis. Robin helps induct Alice to the lifestyle, but the whole time Alice longs for something better.
Though the movie shares the same title as Liz Tuccillo’s novel, this film adaptation by screenwriters Dana Fox, Abby Kohn, Mark Silverstein, and director Christian Ditter plays out rather differently from the book that supposedly inspires it. I have not actually read the novel. However, every synopsis that I have read makes it sound like the filmmakers had originally intended to adapt the book, but decided to toss out that story in lieu of something else. So for fans of the novel wanting to see a faithful adaptation, this movie will not satisfy. For better or worse, Ditter and his writers offer different scenarios with different characters. As a film, How to Be Single does offer some entertainment, but also offers little more of the same clichés and tropes expected from romantic comedies.
Characters get involved in relationships, both good and bad. Conflicts arise, issues have to be sorted out, and sometimes things get resolved. While the film does have some romance to it, the main plot regarding Alice actually delivers on what the title promises. It is a journey about a once, romantically dependent woman who finds the strength to stand on her own. That is why I can’t really recommend this movie as a romantic date night selection. This probably is a better film for single women to enjoy on a night typically not so friendly to singles.
At the same time, I have some reservations in strongly recommending the film. The movie does offer laughs, but some of the gags do fall flat. Rebel Wilson has the gift of gab and delivers some absolutely hilarious lines with superb timing. On the other hand, I grew a bit annoyed with the physical pratfalls that attempt find humor in Wilson’s body type. Alison Brie also stars in the film as Lucy, a regular at Alice’s and Robin’s favorite bar. She too has some funny moments, but her subplot feels tacked on and not particularly necessary to the story as a whole. Leslie Mann’s character and her subplot feel more appropriate for the film and she gives a strong performance with some amusing comic moments.
As for Dakota Johnson who failed to impress me in Fifty Shades of Grey, she performs better in this movie, but doesn’t particularly stand out considering she is supposed to be the main character. The cute and adorable actress can adequately and credibly perform as a meek and timid young woman; however, I had some trouble buying her transition into a confident and assertive lady. Her acting, and the development of her character left me with mixed feelings, as did the entirety of the film.
It is because of these mixed feelings that I cannot strongly recommend this movie for a full-priced theatrical viewing. I can reluctantly recommend the film as a late afternoon matinee for any single ladies seeking entertainment on Valentine’s Day. As I previously stated, this really doesn’t make for a great, romantic date movie. Couples are probably better off doing something else instead. On top of its unexceptional story elements, it is problematic and messy. It isn’t too often that a rom-com offers audiences something bold and creatively different. It seems like the filmmakers wanted to give their audiences an alternative to the typical, but couldn’t seem to avoid it in making the movie appear marketable for the season.