Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Christian Ditter
Stars: Dakota Johnson, Alison Brie, Leslie Mann, Rebel Wilson, Anders Holm, Nicholas Braun, Jake Lacy, Jason Mantzoukas, Damon Wayans jr, Colin Jost.
Anyone venturing in to see How To Be Single expecting another raunchy female centric comedy along the lines of Bridesmaids or Trainwreck will be bitterly disappointed with this formulaic and lightweight ensemble romantic comedy set against the backdrop of New York’s glamorous singles scene.
How To Be Single follows four female characters as they navigate juggling careers with casual relationships, endless romantic entanglements, and meaningless sex. There is an air of familiarity about this raunchy tale of four women misbehaving badly on the dating scene, and there is a distinct Sex And The City vibe about the material. Which is not surprising since How To Be Single is actually based on a novel written by Liz Tuccillo, who used to be one of the main writers on that hit HBO tv series.
The premise may sound a little like Sex And The City, but this sprawling multi-character and multi-layered narrative structure also resembles other romantic comedies such as He’s Just Not That Into You, What To Expect When Expecting, Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve, etc. The film also references other notable chick flicks such as Bridget Jones’s Diary, which is far superior to this dull romcom.
But the script from the writing team of Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein (Valentine’s Day, He’s Just Not That Into You, etc) is so pedestrian and overcrowded with one dimensional characters and subplots that the film loses focus, and many in the audience will lose interest well before it’s over. The film is something of a mess, and is let down by lazy writing and lazy characterisation. It is dull and pedestrian, with flaccid pacing and uneven direction from German filmmaker Christian Ditter (Love, Rosie, etc). Much of the humour falls flat.
The nearest thing we have to a central character here is the virginal Alice (played by Dakota Johnson, from Fifty Shades Of Grey, etc), a recent college graduate, who has broken up with her long time boyfriend Josh (Nicholas Braun) because she thinks that they need to spend time apart before making a long term commitment to spend their lives together. Alice mistakenly believes that she needs to be independent for a while so that she can make the most of her experiences before settling down. She begins to experiment with the vibrant New York nightlife. Her guide to this world is Robin (Rebel Wilson), the flamboyant receptionist at the stuffy legal firm where Alice lands a job as a legal aide.
Meanwhile Alice’s older sister Meg (Leslie Mann) is a gynaecologist who is also a workaholic with little time for relationships or a significant other in her busy life. And despite having delivered thousands of babies without becoming emotionally involved, she suddenly gets all maternal, and decides to have a baby via IVF treatment. She is determined to raise the baby by herself, until she meets handsome young receptionist Ken (Jake Lacy, from Love The Coopers, etc), who falls for her. He is determined to have a relationship with Meg, until her single mindedness drives him away.
The other narrative strand follows the uptight and intense Lucy (played by Alison Brie), who has created an aloghrithm to try and help her find the perfect partner. She lives upstairs from Tom’s bar, and regularly settles into the joint to make use of the free wi-fi. Tom (Anders Holm) is the hunky bartender, well versed in how to stay single while enjoying plenty of casual sex. At first he seems to be the perfect partner for Lucy as they have a strong chemistry, but the film doesn’t opt for this neat narrative path.
All of the main characters cross paths in Tom’s bar, which seems to be their main hangout. But the narrative structure is sprawling, cliched, and ultimately unfocused as it tries to follow all the disparate characters. Lucy’s story line almost becomes superfluous to the plot and she goes missing for large portions of the film. There are too many characters to follow, and the film ultimately comes across as rather aimless, disjointed and uneven. And it seems far too long for what it has to say, and the pace drags for much of the running time.
There is a strong ensemble cast who try their best with the material. Johnson is likeable enough and has a winning presence here as Alice. Mann is a veteran of this type of material and she brings some energy to her performance. Wilson does her usual raunchy and vulgar manic schtick, improvising her way through many a static scene but her performance is lazy and offers a rehash of familiar mannerisms. Her style just becomes tiresome and grating, and her obnoxious and over the top Robin is something of a cipher. As a bookstore owner who falls for Lucy, comic Jason Mantzoukas seems to be riffing on his familiar persona and is wasted in a small role.
The soundtrack is laden with pop songs, but unlike a filmmaker like Martin Scorsese who uses music effectively to heighten a scene, Ditter just throws them into the mix, not particularly caring if they match the mood or not. And Christian Dean’s cinematography is also pretty bland and fails to capture the innate glamour of the New York locations. How To Be Single may well appeal to its target female demographic, but everyone else will quickly grow bored with its meandering nature and its parade of cliched characters.