How to Be Single movie full length review - Recommended Even if the Path is Well-Worn
While watching How to Be Single I got a sudden bout of amnesia and deja vu; I feel like I have forgotten something like this before.
A group of women trying to find themselves, pithy off-screen narration, a menagerie of attractive men who come and go, scenic second unit footage of New York City... hmm, the name Carrie Bradshaw rings a bell for some reason.
How to Be Single starts with college freshman Alice (Johnson) falling hard for a guy (Braun) on her dorm room floor. Years go by and she comes to realize she's never been alone before. Clearly a change must be made so she takes a "break," moves to the city with her sister Meg (Mann) and promptly finds a job as a paralegal. It is there she meets Robin (Wilson) a wanton woman who has mastered the art of being single. Alice struggles to find her own in the city and between the career minded Meg and free-wielding Robin, she has a lot to ponder. Also in the mix is Lucy (Brie) a woman with a tangential connection to the main trio and is trying desperately to find her "one and only" through a series of disastrous blind dates.
Yes, How to Be Single plays like a decent episode of Sex and the City (1998-2004) only without the ostentation. These girls don't go to fashion shows and hook up with millionaires, they live in Brooklyn, gasp! Each of the foursome are in search of some kind of fulfillment in their lives, something that might make them whole. The movie seems adamant about convincing you that finding a soulmate is not always the way to go. Or at the very least a diversity of solutions are available to those in search and there's no single box everyone needs to climb into.
It's a message worth spreading, and while the movie favors to meander down various narrative avenues and dead ends, it does eventually get to it's point. Rebel Wilson's character represents a hedonistic approach to the single life and much like the Alan character in The Hangover series (2009-2013) she gets all the funny lines and isn't a character but an agent of chaos. She's also best appreciated in small doses which the movie wisely obliges. Alison Brie's character is the complete opposite matching Wilson only in the level of broad-stroke characterization. If the movie was wholly about her, I would have simply found her too shrill to endure. Though I will say that her chemistry with potential love-interest Anders Holm is enough to take that bitter pill to the end credits.
Ironically while the film tries to subvert conventions it was Leslie Mann's character that makes the most poignant transformation. She plays a career oriented doctor who is keen on the idea of having a baby thus goes to a sperm bank with the intention of having a child on her own. Predictably she falls in love with someone and has to keep her pregnancy hush-hush for a while. Her chemistry with the youthful Jake Lacy is likewise a fun little respite from the film's narrative sloppiness.
I haven't mentioned Dakota Johnson's character at length yet, and there's a reason for that; Alice isn't that interesting. Her main conflict comes from having to choose between three men she took the time to get to know: her ex, new love interest Damon Wayans Jr. and the aforementioned Anders Holm. Everything comes to a head at her rooftop birthday party but then nothing actually happens. Johnson is famous for her role in Fifty Shade of Grey (2015) and lord knows she plays vulnerability well but confidence? Joy? any of the other Inside Out (2015) characters, not so much.
Fundamentally How to Be Single is a worthwhile movie despite its rather various faults. It remains reliably funny throughout with various riffs and wisecracks provided by Wilson, Holm and the always charming Mann. For millennials this movie may be an introductory course to lipstick feminism where the choices are many and the points don't matter. Yet for those of us who remember the misadventures of a similarly inclined New York City foursome, I think it'd be better just to dust off that season 3 DVD case.