If you’re not celebrating Valentine’s Day by going to see Deadpool (What’s more romantic than blood splatter and Deadpool’s ass? Right, Jodi?), you might be tempted to pony up for a little rom-com called How to Be Single. I would caution you to avoid that temptation. Or don’t? It’s OK. But kind of it’s not?
How to Be Single is a movie that exists, and it is… a movie that exists.
Dakota Johnson stars as Alice, who takes a break (cue Friends gif) from her solid, boring four-year relationship with her college boyfriend Josh (Nicholas Braun) to ~*~find out who she really is as a person~*~. She hoofs it to New York and moves in with her sister Meg (Leslie Mann), a doctor who long ago put romance on hold in order to concentrate on her career. We have a Career Woman and a starry-eyed dreamer obsessed with twu wuv, so now we need the fun best friend who exists in a permanent state of boozing and one-night stands: Enter Rebel Wilson, doing her Rebel Wilson Thing, about which your mileage may vary. Filling up the final spot on How to Be Single’s Modern New York Woman bingo card is Lucy (Alison Brie), who’s obsessed with online dating and convinced that logical thinking and algorithms can land her her ideal husband.
All the elements are there for a decently funny yet generic film. How to Be Single exists in the Love, Actually! school of “throw a whole bunch of different types of romances at the wall and hope one of them sticks,” although not to that same degree. Yet I found it difficult to relate to any of the characters, specifically Alice, a twenty-something who can afford a studio apartment in Brooklyn’s expensive DUMBO neighborhood and a swanky rooftop birthday party on a paralegal’s salary. How much do paralegals make? It can’t be enough to live in DUMBO without needing a roommate. I’m sorry that you’re a young woman suffering from self-worth issues in the Big City, girl, but we’ve all been there. You can have a mope in the BROOKLYN APARTMENT YOU DON’T HAVE TO SHARE WITH A SINGLE PERSON BECAUSE YOU HAVE NO FINANCIAL DIFFICULTIES SOMEHOW AND ALSO YOU WENT TO WESLEYAN and deal with it.
There are elements of How to Be Single that really work. Between Single and Obvious Child, Jake Lacy is slowly making a case for himself as the heir apparent to Paul Rudd’s rom-com niche, which is pretty cool. Dakota Johnson, as in 50 Shades of Grey, has the charisma to rise above mediocre material. Rom-com directors from here on out should make it a condition of their hiring that they must be allowed to cast Damon Wayans Jr.. He’s not in it a ton, and the role he plays (a widowed father and one of Alice’s suitors) isn’t particularly comedic, but I could feel the audience melt every time he was on-screen.
And, the biggest point in How to Be Single’s favor: The way it emphasizes valuing oneself outside of a relationship. In How to Be Single—as in real life, not that you’d know it from most rom-coms Hollywood puts out—it’s important to be OK with who you are as a person, and not as one half of a couple. A rom-com where [SPOILER] the main character’s journey is towards accepting herself rather than finding her soulmate, never mind one where SHE DOESN’T END UP WITH ANYONE AND THAT’S OK is extremely rare. It’s a pretty ballsy, subversive move, especially for a movie coming out on Valentine’s Day. Actually, How to Be Single is more of a Galentine’s Day film—the relationships Alice has with her female friends are ultimately portrayed as more important than those she shares with her potential paramours.
In the end, though, How to Be Single is still a mediocre-verging-on-good movie. I wish it had dropped a few plotlines and focused on one or two characters, instead of trying to encompass the entire experience of being a single woman in the 21st century. It’s clunky, the way it is: Ostensibly major characters disappear for long stretches of time, and characters whom I’d like to have gotten to know better (HELLO DAMON WAYANS JR., HI) only get a few scenes. The movie careens back and forth between rowdy comedy and Life Lessons with no real unified tone. How to Be Single gets major points for trying to do something different, but ultimately it’s still a Netflixer at best.