Review: How To Be Single (2016)

For The Australia Times: Four girls live in New York City and try to navigate through the trials and tribulations of dating life. Sound familiar?

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Four girls live in New York City and try to navigate through the trials and tribulations of dating life. Sound familiar? No it’s not Sex And The City 3, but rather How To Be Single, a new “modern” rom-com about the new Carries and co. who exist within the world of Tinder, IVF and casual sex of the highest degree.

How To Be Single stars Fifty Shades of Grey actress Dakota Johnson as Alice, a newly single woman starting her new job in the Big Apple. Here she meets Robin (Rebel Wilson), a secretary who takes Alice under her wing and shows her the way to be a single woman in the vast landscape of New York. Alice’s sister Meg (Leslie Mann), is a maternity doctor who suddenly feels like she wants to have her own after interacting with her first baby for a few minutes. Lastly, Alice’s neighbour Lucy, (Alison Brie), is obsessed with finding the perfect man and has established a formula to find only the best matches on online dating.

Based on the 2008 novel by Liz Tuccillo, How To Be Single feels very much like Tuccillo’s other hit He’s Just Not That Into You, and not in a good way. Characters are underdeveloped and the themes veiled behind the dialogue are backward in nature, yet its easy to tell that the film tries to be cutting edge and increasingly feminist. Here the women are portrayed as being desperate and with their entire world revolving around their relationships with men, but simultaneously pushing the idea that they don’t need men to validate themselves – they just really want one to.

In the acting department, Dakota Johnson is in much better shape here than in her previous attempts, bringing a realness to her neurotic Alice that makes her ideal for this type of romantic comedy. Rebel Wilson, usually a strong comic actress, is wasted here and is given her only the one-liners that appear in the trailers. Leslie Mann is surprisingly strong here, but too is trapped in the over thinking older woman obsessed with having a baby trope, making her the most one dimensional character in the story. Alison Brie here makes the audience wonder why Lucy should be part of the story at all, as she is boring and uncomplicated in the worst way possible. For the supporting men in the film, Jake Lacy stands out the most as the charming Ken, while Anders Holm’s Tom is excruciatingly clichéd and Damon Wayans Jr’s David is a poorly planned plot device without any depth whatsoever. Meanwhile Jason Mantzoukas is good as George, but never really had the chance to shine.

Indeed, there is great chemistry between the leading ladies and all the men throughout the film, and whilst they seem to be treading down familiar paths, there are some much needed surprises and twists to bring some freshness to the story. Nevertheless, the idea that the film is meant to represent the way a young woman should be single is bizarrely unjust – it focuses entirely on relationships and romance, undermining this brazen concept that a woman can be empowered and single at the same time. By not focusing enough on one character, the effect is lost on the audience who feel like they are getting mixed messages on what the story believes is acceptable for a single woman. In fact, the entire film makes no memorable additions to the romantic comedy genre and thus loses its intention; to be wild, focused and down to earth. Sure, it is funny at times and there are some emotional tidbits here and there, but How To Be Single is not the bible anyone out of a relationship should follow. Proceed with caution.

2.5/5 stars.

Published in The Australia Times, 1 March, 2016.


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