Review: How To Be Single
PLOT: A woman (Dakota Johnson) navigates the NYC singles scene with the help of her new best friend (Rebel Wilson), while her older surgeon sister (Leslie Mann) wrestles with a long-suppressed maternal urge.
REVIEW: HOW TO BE SINGLE is a movie that desperately wants to be better than it actually is. Somewhere under the glitzy, studio exterior is the DNA of a decent comedy about the contemporary singles scene in America, but this sensibility rarely, if ever, leaks out.
Marking a return to comedy for star Dakota Johnson, who showed promise as a comedienne on the cancelled Ben & Kate before hitting the A-list with FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, HOW TO BE SINGLE is jam-packed with comic talent, but all are henpecked by thoroughly mediocre material. Writers Abby Kohn, Mac Silverstein and Dana Fox are specialists in the genre, having written VALENTINE’S DAY, WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS, COUPLES RETREAT and more lucrative (but bad) rom coms. They’re out of their depth with what aspires to a raunchy BRIDESMAIDS-style comedy, but is trapped beneath a super glossy exterior that can’t help but be just another “pretty people looking for love” movie despite the inarguable talents of the game cast.
Johnson’s a likable lead, but her character is two-dimensional at best. Early-on, she says something to the effect that this isn’t a story about boyfriends, but over-and-over this is ignored with so much time spent on her three love interests played by Nicholas Braun, Anders Holm and Damon Waynes Jr. The focus on them is so strong that second-billed Rebel Wilson all but disappears from the film after the first act, only to be shoehorned back in awkwardly by the end. One of the boyfriends even gets the major emotional beat of the final act all to himself, with none of the leads present or even figuring into his arc. I thought this wasn’t about the boyfriends.
At least Johnson gets a good deal of screen-time, with Wilson seemingly around only to take pratfalls and not much else. She’s more of a comic-type than a full-fledged character, which is below her at this point. Poor Alison Brie gets the worst treatment of all, with her presented as a comic, “I need to get married NOW” type character who’s presented as a hot mess until she meets Mr. Right. Probably the only original thing about her arc is that her love interest is played by the great Jason Mantzoukas, who makes the most of his two-or-three scenes.
Even Leslie Mann, who should be a lead by this point rather than playing the maternal older sister, gets a clichéd, rom-com story-line with the only bit of originality being that her love interest is a bit younger than her. Like everyone else, she’s wasted.
What makes HOW TO BE SINGLE such a missed opportunity is that the female singles-scene is probably fertile ground for comedy, with Mann’s character providing maybe the only real, knowing line when she tells Johnson that shows like Sex & the City were always more about looking for boyfriends than the actual singles life. If HOW TO BE SINGLE had been a smaller budget Sundance-style comedy with the same cast, but maybe a good writer-director like Leslie Headland behind it, this could have been something. Rather, it’s just slick, disposable studio product and a meager attempt to cash-in on those Valentine’s Day date-movie bucks.