Mark Reviews Movies

How to Be Single


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Christian Ditter

Cast: Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Leslie Mann, Anders Holm, Alison Brie, Damon Wayans Jr., Nicholas Braun, Jake Lacy, Jason Mantzoukas, Colin Jost

MPAA Rating: R (for sexual content and strong language throughout)

Running Time: 1:50

Release Date: 2/12/16

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Review by Mark Dujsik | February 11, 2016

It's not often that a movie features a single element that one can point to and observe that it probably should have been cut outright, either in the editing of the movie itself or in the screenplay before shooting began. When such an occurrence happens, though, it is helpful, because it aids in clarifying at least part of a movie's problems. How to Be Single features one character who doesn't belong with the rest. Cut her from the proceedings, and things start to fall into place.

Cut this character, and that means another unconnected one either has to go or has to have a diminished role. With those two characters omitted, suddenly the movie's focus becomes more tenable, and the characters whose stories actually seem to matter here suddenly don't feel like side players.

The movie's structure gives about equal weight to the experiences of four singles (with a fifth acting as comic relief) living and looking for fulfillment in New York City. That would be fine if those experiences were equally worth exploring, but instead, the movie provides two stereotypes, a character whose story is as confused as she is, and one whose story transcends the broad, situational-comedy nature of its setup simply because the two performances at the heart of it are so charming. Not all of the movie's problems can be pinned on the two stereotypes, but enough of them can be.

The premise—at least as it is stated by the opening narration—is that too many women define themselves by the relationships they are in, just got out of, or are seeking, and that the stories of Alice (Dakota Johnson) and the rest of the group will be about the in-between-relationship moments. The big revelation at the end is that only a few of these characters are really capable of living in and for those in-between moments.

At least thematically, then, the presence of Lucy (Alison Brie) kind of makes sense. Lucy isn't actually part of the group in any way, except that she lives above and is always at the local bar to take advantage of an open wireless Internet connection. The bar is owned by Tom (Anders Holm), a proud womanizer who has sex with Alice on occasion but discovers that he is hopelessly in love with Lucy. Lucy has signed up for multiple online dating websites, obsesses over wedding magazines, and has developed a statistical explanation for how there has to be a Mr. Right out there for her.

Lucy is annoying in a way that goes far beyond the fact that she's supposed to be annoying. It's because that is the only point of the character as established by the screenplay (by Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein, and Dana Fox, adapting Liz Tuccillo's book). She exists only to be the grating stereotype of the lonely and desperate single woman who spends every waking moment planning how she can find a man and lamenting that the lack of a man in her life means that her life is a failure. Tom is a stereotype, too, of course, but his quirks are "cute," such as the way he has his apartment set up to prevent any woman from overstaying her welcome. Lucy, on the other hand, is an overbearing bore.

The two remaining main characters are at least a bit more complex and aren't hampered down by being confined to clear, disconcerting gender stereotypes. There's Alice, who has decided to "take a break" from her college boyfriend (Nicholas Braun) to see what it's like to be on her own. She gets a job in the city, starts going to bars and clubs with her free-spirited co-worker Robin (Rebel Wilson), and rather quickly decides that she wants to get back together with the guy. He has moved on from her, so she has to reevaluate her life for real now.

The other is Alice's older sister Meg (Leslie Mann), an OB-GYN who is happy being a single, career woman. She decides to have a baby through artificial insemination, and after that, she meets a nice, younger guy named Ken (Jake Lacy). Yes, the story goes exactly where everyone would expect it to go, but where it goes is entirely dependent upon where Meg wants it to go. Mann and Lacy are smart enough to play the scenario solely for laughs.

The certainty of that storyline is refreshing when set against Alice's, which takes the concept of the in-between moments a bit too far. She gets into a relationship with David (Damon Wayans Jr.), a widower and single father, but the movie intentionally omits vital information about him and their relationship, picking up at the end of the affair with a loaded scene of melodrama. Alice is wishy-washy on everything, and it's not until the movie's finale that we even get a sense of what that opening narration promises.

The stories never fully gel. Part of the reason is the disparate tones between them, and part of it is simply because two of these characters feel forced in for no discernable reason. How to Be Single offers decidedly mixed results.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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