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Review: How to Be Single (2016)

How to Be Single (2016)

Directed by: Christian Ditter

Premise: Several women cope with singlehood and the dating scene in New York City.
What Works: How to Be Single borrows a lot from Sex and the City. Like that television program and its first cinematic spin off, How to Be Single is about four women navigating the dating scene in New York City and attempting to reconcile their careers and their social lives. This film has a similar style as Sex and the City and its female characters correspond to the leading ladies from that program. However, How to Be Single is far less obnoxious than Sex and the City and its characters are much more likable. Each of the central actresses has distinct story turf. Dakota Johnson is the lead and she is a newcomer to New York City, having ended her relationship with her college boyfriend and taken a new job. She is initiated into the dating scene by a coworker played by Rebel Wilson. This actress has worked out a successful niche for herself as a funny party-girl type and How to Be Single features Wilson in the same kind of role. Leslie Mann is the older sister of Johnson’s character and a doctor who has put her career before her social life but now wants to have a baby. The core cast of How to Be Single is rounded out by Alison Brie as a slightly neurotic single who is obsessed with settling down and getting married. Each of these women is generally likable. Dakota Johnson does the wide-eyed newbie role well, Alison Brie is funny in a manic way, and Rebel Wilson is Rebel Wilson. Despite how much of the movie is recycled from Sex and the City and other romantic comedies, How to Be Single recreates the clichés in a way that’s unique and recognizable to the Millennial audience and it manages to have a few laughs along the way.

What Doesn’t: The story How to Be Single is all over the place. For the most part this movie is about the series of relationships that Dakota Johnson’s character has over the course of a year. The rest of the women of this movie are also dating and each new relationship introduces a new subplot. How to Be Single plays like several episodes of a television drama mashed together. It is shot cinematically but the storytelling is right out of a sitcom with the characters going through experiences that are disconnected from each other. The movie lacks cohesion and the stories of these women fail to reach any kind of meaningful conclusion. How to Be Single runs nearly two hours in length and it suffers from a lot of filler. The movie descends into tangents that don’t further the plot or develop the characters in a meaningful way. In general the relationships and the characters of How to Be Single are one note. Dakota Johnson’s character is a wide-eyed newbie, Rebel Wilson is a party girl, Leslie Mann is a shrill pregnant lady, and Alison Brie is marriage-focused. The filmmakers approach each of their life paths in the most simplistic way possible. Typically in a romantic comedy the characters think they want one thing but gradually come to realize that they want something else. How to Be Single doesn’t even complicate matters that much; everyone knows what they want from the outset and the duration of the film is a waiting game until life drops their wishes into their laps. Each of these women eventually gets exactly what they want and that is uninteresting storytelling that’s also more than a little dishonest. In that respect, How to Be Single is confused about what it wants to say. The film posits itself as a third wave feminist statement in which women are free to self-determination and to have sexual lives that are liberated from guilt and patriarchal expectations. But the women of this movie aren’t really doing that. Instead they are varying degrees of boy crazy and the film is full of mixed messages about relationships and independence.  

Bottom Line: The romantic comedy audience is pretty undemanding and so How to Be Single will play for its intended audience. But the story is sloppily told and very often confirms the clichés that it seeks to subvert. 

Episode: #583 (February 21, 2016)