Thursday, February 25, 2016

How to Be Single

HOW TO BE SINGLE (Christian Ditter, 2016)

Alice (Dakota Johnson) is in a happy relationship with longtime college boyfriend Josh (Nicholas Braun), but she wants to take a break because she doesn’t feel she knows who she is outside of a couple. In HOW TO BE SINGLE she begins this presumably temporary split from Josh while working as a paralegal in New York City. At the office she meets and befriends Robin (Rebel Wilson), a hard-partying, commitment-resistant dynamo who is eager to teach her new friends in the ways of the modern single woman. Robin encourages Alice to get christened into the world of carefree hook-ups with Tom (Anders Holm), a bar owner with a pathological compulsion for ensuring that no woman will linger at his apartment the morning after. It doesn’t take long for Alice to determine that she and Josh were right for each other, but when she’s ready to end this experiment, she discovers he’s found another girlfriend during their time off.

Alice’s older sister Meg (Leslie Mann) is unattached and appears content with focusing on being an obstetrician than having a family of her own. Whether it’s her biological clock or daily interaction with infants, she eventually realizes she wants a baby of her own and turns to in vitro fertilization. Tom has a thing for Lucy (Alison Brie), who is friendly with him but appears to see him for what he is. Lucy wants someone serious about getting married and is using analytics on dating sites to locate the perfect man.

HOW TO BE SINGLE plays as a less bawdy version of SEX AND THE CITY when it was a television show, although the main characters aren’t nearly as tight socially as those on the HBO series. Alice and Robin are supposedly fast friends--and best ones too--yet Robin vanishes for long stretches, returning only when the film needs a jolt of energy. The episodic nature carves HOW TO BE SINGLE into segments that withhold it from establishing a comedic rhythm or narrative flow.

What Alice elects to do is the solo version of couples on THE AMAZING RACE that say they want to put themselves through a high stress situation to test their relationships’ strength. At one point someone on screen wisely acknowledges that maybe this isn’t the smartest thing to try. Screenwriters Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein, and Dana Fox also have a curious idea of what Alice’s journey of self-discovery should be. She continues to be defined through the relationships she has, even if they’re fleeting, which directly contradicts what the character states that she wants to learn at the film’s start. There’s no personal growth for Alice other than some lip service toward the end. Otherwise the insistent message is that when she finds the right guy, she needs to lock him down as soon as possible. The film upholds the importance of female bonds yet often has the gals pushing each other into the arms of some guy lest they contemplate the horror of being alone for one second.

HOW TO BE SINGLE comes from the production company Flower Films, which Drew Barrymore co-founded. Alice is the type of character Barrymore would have been playing about fifteen years ago. Johnson is funny when showing how bad or out of practice Alice is at flirting, but she can seem too innocent, inexperienced, or passive. The film is divided among too many characters as it is, so it would have been better to invest Alice with the certainty that Brie’s Lucy displays. Wilson’s devil-may-care attitude boosts the laughs. Mann brings some pathos to Meg’s longing for a child and gets a physical comedy highlight when crawling out of a cab’s window while on the verge of giving birth.

HOW TO BE SINGLE gets tripped up by the fantasy it wishes to indulge about independence and the struggle for interdependence rather than codependence. It could stand to get a do-over, which is something the lead character would probably appreciate too.

Grade: C+

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