“Sporadically funny”

by Steve Pulaski

Watching How to Be Single, yet another comedy released this year hoping that its mediocrity will be forgotten by the time the halfway point of the year comes around, I began to feel a certain pessimistic sadness wash over me. This is presumably a film to showcase the daily events of many single people in heavily metropolitan areas with few cares and big plans every single weekend. Of course, one must reserve some incredulous circumstances that occur in the film as being part of the theatrical spice, but fundamentally, we can hopefully agree that this film looks to profile the kind of debauchery young, single people hope for on their Friday and Saturday nights while they’re not confined to one person.

In How to Be Single, nobody talks to one another, nobody genuinely cares about the emotional well-being of one another, and nobody seems to hold kind of pride or self-respect for one another, male or female. This is an observation on my part and not a testament that the characters of the film should live according to my personal standards. I’ve never been one for telling people how to live their lives, for I’d be damned if they told me how to live mine. Having said that, however, there is not a shred of honesty or decency on part of these characters; there’s just an engagement in mindless actions, empty sex, and a desire for a lifestyle of free drinks and early headaches. If there were ever a film to show just why young people’s relationships suffer and why commitment is so difficult to find, it’s How to Be Single.

After that lofty opening, you’re probably expecting an intensely negative review on my part. You’d be wrong, for I didn’t hate How to Be Single; in fact, I found myself laughing quite frequently and holding great admiration for its talented cast of performers, all of whom have high energy and fearless comedic presences. But even before the lights came back on, I felt uneasy after most laughs and each scene that involved characters practically throwing themselves at one another for sex, one male character explaining his methods to have the perfect one-night stand, and the umpteenth sex story Rebel Wilson’s character explains in elaborate detail, I began to wince and quietly keep to myself. It’s almost to the point where you can place the death of commitment and honesty between people when sex or a potential relationship is involved alongside the death of chivalry.

How to Be Single
Directed by
Christian Ditter
Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Leslie Mann
Release Date
12 February 2016
Steve’s Grade: D+

The film revolves around Alice (Fifty Shades of Grey‘s Dakota Johnson), a young woman who is dumped by her boyfriend before moving to New York City to work in a law firm. She moves in with Meg (Leslie Mann), her single, workaholic sister who is considering having a kid as a single mother via a sperm donor, in addition to befriending her bawdy co-worker Robin (Rebel Wilson), who holds her countless one-night stands as a badge of honor. During her time in New York City, Alice meets Tom (Anders Holm), an attractive bartender who has rigged his apartment to basically beg a woman to leave after sleeping with him, despite his crush on Lucy (Alison Brie), a bar-regular who spends her time wasting away on dating sites.

As stated, How to Be Single features a slew of commendable, high-energy performances by actors who will go on to be tomorrow’s regular comedy headliners. Dakota Johnson shows her talents in a lead role that allows for more freedom outside of confining dialog and flat emotions, Leslie Mann continues to prove herself as one of the funniest and most likable actresses in comedy, Alison Brie, despite having fairly brief scenes, manages to make the most out of them with her sarcasm and dry wit, and Wilson creates a fun, if standard, physical role for her character thanks to her fearless on-screen presence.

This is one of those films where I seriously hope the actors got paid more than the writers because they almost effectively undermine the shortcomings and noticeable imperfections of the screenplay every chance they get. Sadly, the trio of writers, Dana Fox, Abby Kohn, and Marc Silverstein, nearly spoil the pot here by throwing too many ingredients in without adequate preparation. Many of the plot-strands in this film aren’t well developed, and much like hookup culture itself, real relationships are stunted and have an inability to develop when there’s simultaneously too much and too little going on. One doesn’t really notice this until the film ends and they’re walking out of the theater, to their car, or to the bathroom and reflecting on how desperately little in this film gets solved as a result of the film’s scattershot tendencies.

This sort of disorganized narrative may have been more forgivable if the film had something groundbreaking, or at least meaningful, to say about being single, but it makes the same inexcusable thematic misstep as last year’s Paper Towns with its end monologue. It basically states that going out and having carnal sex, mistreating others, and playing with people’s emotions is okay so long is it’s in the pursuit of self-discovery, which is unforgivable, unacceptable, and absolutely ludicrous. A film with this kind of theme is harmful, but thankfully it doesn’t pander it to the extent of Paper Towns.

While How to Be Single is frequently entertaining and sporadically funny, it’s also thematically problematic and, all-around, misguided with its casual depictions of treating people unfairly and justifying the character’s poor behavior as a path to finding themselves. The commendable cast do all that they can to save this film, but the flaws are too weight to save a spiraling plane from heading anywhere but downwards.