How to Be Single Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Leslie Mann, Alison Brie. Directed by Christian Ditter. Rated R. Opens Friday.
Newly single Alice (Dakota Johnson) opens How to Be Single by wondering in voiceover why people always tell their stories via their romantic relationships, and then the movie proceeds to tell the stories of four New York women solely via their romantic relationships. That kind of hypocrisy pervades How to Be Single, a movie that wants to simultaneously celebrate female independence while making sure that each of its characters ends up with a narratively appropriate partner.
Based loosely on a novel by the co-author of He’s Just Not That Into You, Single mashes several mediocre romantic comedies into one, starting with Alice’s quest to “find herself” after breaking up with her long-term college boyfriend and getting a big-city paralegal job. At work she meets the free-spirited, promiscuous Robin (Rebel Wilson), who promises to guide Alice through the wonders of the single life. Alice’s older sister Meg (Leslie Mann) is a successful obstetrician who proudly declares she doesn’t need a man or a child, which is a guarantee that she’ll end up with both by the end of the movie.
Also, there’s Lucy (Alison Brie), who never actually interacts with the other women, although she trades flirty banter with the womanizing bartender (Workaholics’ Anders Holm) who runs the popular hook-up spot they all frequent. The disconnection of Lucy’s storyline is just one example of the movie’s sloppy plotting, which includes a seemingly endless series of life-changing epiphanies in the final half-hour. The individual plots manage to come off as both predictable and haphazard, ineptly attempting to subvert typical rom-com elements.
All four of the main stars have been charming and funny in previous romantic comedies, but only Wilson really gets to show off her talents here, even if she’s just riffing on characters she’s played before. Because Robin doesn’t have a romance to tie her down, she’s free to be weird and funny and to hint at the actually subversive and empowering movie this could have been. Instead, like Alice in the opening voiceover, Single pays lip service to liberating its female characters as it marches them through the same old clichés.