HOW TO BE SINGLE (6.5 out of 10) Directed by Christian Ditter; Written by Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein, Dana Fox, based on the book by Liz Tuccillo; Starring Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Leslie Mann, Alison Brie, Damon Wayans Jr., Anders Holm, Nicholas Braun, Jake Lacy, Jason Mantzoukas, Colin Jost; Rated R for “sexual content and strong language throughout”; Running time 110 minutes; In wide release February 12, 2016
If Woody Allen and Judd Apatow were to donate both their X chromosomes and create a new person, that is who put this film together. Blending the cynical and touching, the raunchy and the sweet, this film is kind of a mess. And yet, like its main characters, despite their meandering and chaotic attempt to find themselves, it’s so charming you kind of love it.
Dakota Johnson plays Alice, who upon leaving home falls for the first guy she dates in college, and four year later decides she needs to know what being single is like. Her new officemate, Robin (Rebel Wilson) tries to teach her the ways of partydom and never getting bogged down in a relationship. Alice’s older sister Meg (Leslie Mann), has spent her entire life devoted to her career as an OB/GYN, but wonders what life would with a child of her own. And Allison Brie is Lucy, literally looking for love in all the wrong places– specifically the internet.
This is the type of screwball comedy of sexual exploits that would have featured a mostly male cast in the 1980s, but this flips that script into a story of four loosely connected women searching for meaning outside of traditional relationships. In fact, it seems this film does not pass a “Reverse Bechdel Test”– no male characters ever speak to one another about anything but the female characters. Way to go!
Doused in estrogen and alcohol, it delivers belly laughs and a few tears. If this sounds at all like “Sex and the City”, “New Girl”, etc, it’s because it’s brought to you by many of the same people who produced and wrote for those shows. Indeed, it’s the same writing team from “Never Been Kissed”, “He’s Just Not That Into You”, “Valentine’s Day”, and “The Vow”. If you’re a fan of those, you will likely enjoy yourself here.
While the script does a good job, the film is best when it’s showcasing the talents of its cast. Allison Brie is as cute an manic as ever, and Rebel Wilson is used in small enough doses to not become overbearing. But like Jeff Spicoli in “Fast Times at Ridgement High,” while this isn’t her film, she steals the show and becomes the most memorable part of it. Leslie Mann finally gets to spread her acting wings: a scene where she talks to a baby in her doctor’s office will have your ovaries aching. Also a surprising treat is Damon Wayans, Jr. whose severe emotional paralysis deliver one of the biggest gut punches in the film. He’s not just a pretty, funny face– he can act.
This will provide fine fodder for anyone looking for a serviceable rom-com for Valentine’s Day, but be warned: this is rated R for a reason.
Despite its meandering plot and being generally all over the place in terms of tone, it delivers the message that that’s who we are: we’re complicated, layered human beings for whom partying and pushing away from traditional monogamy may hide inner issues. This film certainly has issues. But like any of the women in the cast, I would fall for them because they’re so fun and charismatic– issues and all.
6.5 out of 10