It’s very hard to do something new in the rom-com genre. The most memorable ones of recent years either a) subvert the genre (500 Days of Summer) or b) turn out to be about much more (About Time).
How to be Single, in ways, tries to do both of these things, but pulls its punches, and ends up doing neither.
Alice (50 Shades’ Dakota Johnson) goes on a break with her boyfriend, as she doesn’t know what it is to be alone. Thus, under the tutelage of socialite Robin (Rebel Wilson), Alice must learn – wait for it – how to be single. Concurrently, Lucy (Alison Brie) uses the interweb to google her perfect man, much to the chagrin of, her opposite, barman Tom. On top of all this, Leslie Mann decides she needs a baby.
Damon Wayans Jr is also shoehorned in for some reason.
If the plotting sounds confused or over-stuffed, that’s because it is. Firstly, don’t be tricked by the title, How to be Single has very little instructional value. Alice goes to bars and drinks and kisses guys, showing a limited creativity when it comes to being single. Robin is meant to be this mentor figure, the wise singleton, but I can’t tell if Alice took any of her wisdom in at all.
The film clearly needed a marketing hook, so thus, How to be Single.
Disregarding all this for a moment, it’s undeniable that the film is charming and enjoyable, and never dull. Even when it goes off tempo (I’m looking at you, Damon Jr), it never drags, never becoming a tedious watch. It is funny throughout (if not hilarious), and the cast are all watchable and engaging (even you. Damon Jr).
However, the performances also lead to one of the biggest problems: tone. The tone of How to be Single is thrown around like a dead Frisbee, with scenes of lewd hijinks being followed directly by scenes of grief and depression. The film is split: on the cartoon comedy side we have Wilson and Brie, both loud and two-dimensional; and on the other we have Mann and Johnson, who bring pathos, subtlety and dramatic chops to their roles.
No side is bad, or worse than the other, they just don’t go together.
At times, it even feels as if it was written as a British Bridget Jones-esque comedy that’s being mugged off by Americans. Or maybe, a Woody Allen-like New Yorker comedy that’s being taken over by Californians. Even Jamie Bell in Fantastic Four gave better New Yorker than what’s on display here.
And when Fant4stic is being used as a positive comparison, you know you’re in trouble.
Also, as all the story strands are only loose connected, the film becomes episodic. It could’ve ended 20 minutes earlier or going on for another 20, and no discernible difference would’ve been made. Of course, there are films united by a theme (Love, Actually), but this feels loose, undefined, so much so that the film feels it necessary to end with an all-encompassing and very forced voiceover.
The connections are there, but you can connect anything to anything if you try hard enough.
None of this stops the film from being entertaining, and it’s doubtful that many people are going to How to be Single seeking inspiration and profundity. It’s not sickly sweet like the vomitous Valentine’s Day, and never as heart-warming as Love, Actually, but as a post-Valentine pick-me-up, it’s damn well good enough.