HOW TO BE SINGLE (Warner Bros.)
Dir. Christian Ditter, Script. Dana Fox, Abby Kohn, Mark Silverstein
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Alison Brie & Leslie Mann
Plot: When Alice becomes single and moves to New York to find herself, she runs into many others who seem to already have done so.
For a title that indicates that there is a lesson to be learned by watching it, How To Be Single left me with more questions than answers by the time the bell rang. Some of those questions included (and trust me, are not limited to) some of the most basic queries in all of film reviewing. What is the genre? What is the journey of the film? Why do these characters actually exist? Is there a point to all of this? To be honest, if someone directly asked me what How To Be Single was about, I would either direct them to the title and hope they bought it, or merely say ‘Beats me. Deadpool‘s still out…’.
HOW TO BE SINGLE POSITIONS ITSELF AS A ‘FEMINIST ROM-COM’, BUT I CAN’T TELL IF IT IS ONE
So here’s hoping I can decipher it: How To Be Single attempts to be an important and meaningful magnum opus on the single life, but what actually ends up on screen is a series of meaningless and tenuously connected scenes, written exclusively by Tumblr. Dakota Johnson plays a woman named Alice – I would tell you her full name, but I have genuinely forgotten it (and apparently IMDB did as well) – who attempts to find herself through being single, which turns out to be a challenge as she struggles to do so for very long. We follow her as she makes a series of misfortunate mistakes, which we would be happy to do if it wasn’t for a significant issue.
Alice has zero personality – it speaks volumes when I say that Dakota Johnson had more character when she was being chained up and whipped by a characterless businessman last year. She’s essentially been asked to set a fuse alight underwater, and she’s unable to provide the central spark. We just lumber along with her for the runtime, hoping for scenes where she’s joined by others. Thankfully, Rebel Wilson does give the film some energy and personality, playing an Amy Schumer-in-Trainwreck style character who has fully embraced the single life. Rebel’s definitely in her natural habitat here, but like many other characters in How To Be Single, her appearances are restricted to being just fleeting glimpses.
DAKOTA JOHNSON STARS AS A WOMAN WITH NO PERSONALITY IRONICALLY TRYING TO FIND HERSELF
That’s why How To Be Single‘s screenplay is fatally flawed – while the dialogue is snappy and genuine, the moment you look to the foundations of it you see major problems. The screenwriters have attempted to have intersecting storylines, but failed to deal out the screen time accordingly. The effect of this error is that the rest of the stories feel secondary and subservient to Alice’s main story, and with the connections between some of the stories being so slim, you begin to wonder why they were incorporated at all. You feel like the rest of the stories are distractions, just happening for the sake of happening, without serving the film whatsoever.
HOW TO BE SINGLE FOLLOWS SEVERAL INTERSECTING STORYLINES, WITH VARYING RESULTS
One of these is a storyline where Alison Brie is desperately attempting to find a boyfriend, even devising statistical algorithms for the cause. However, while the storyline works on its own, it bears no relevance to the main story besides a 30-second string of dialogue between Alice and a promiscuous bartender named Tom who mentions that she comes in there often. Other sub-narratives feel slightly more important, such as one where Alice’s sister (played solidly by Leslie Mann) finds a man but worries if her career as a midwife will cause their relationship to fail. However, all of them feel like off-cuts to Alice’s story, which is also the weakest technically – its poorly paced, feels cumbersome, and ends on a overtly preachy, self-important tone.
In fact, I almost begin to wonder if some of the storylines were incorporated for the sole sake of snazzy cinematography. Love, Rosie director Christian Ditter helms How To Be Single quite well; the tone remains consistent throughout and he often brings out some strong acting from the supporting cast (mainly Wilson). Technicals are solid, the cinematography very much so: New York certainly feels like a character in How To Be Single, and the camerawork brought the City That Never Sleeps to life. The film’s editing is also strong, with enough uniqueness to keep me faintly interested in the plot.
REBEL WILSON LIFTS HOW TO BE SINGLE AS A CONFIDENT, OCCASIONALLY FUNNY AND OFTEN HIGH, MAN-EATER
But the issue with How To Be Single is that I simply found myself distanced. I felt that the film itself didn’t know what genre it was: at first glance, I surmised Rom-Com, but How To Be Single lacked a relationship that you could invest in – the closest thing to it is the friendship between Johnson and Wilson, but even that struggles to feel believable at times. However, the film doesn’t have enough comedy or romance to stand alone in those genres. Ultimately, How To Be Single feels weighed down by trying to be too different, too sprawling; in attempting to have an overriding message, or a lesson, it loses sight of the core elements of its story.