Amusing Single a Humorously Slight Affair
Dakota Johnson is a star. Leslie Mann is as talented an actress as there is working today deserving of a movie to call her own. Rebel Wilson, when used correctly, can produce belly laughs better than just about anyone. Those are the three things I took away from watching the amenable, generally amusing if moderately forgettable comedy How to Be Single, the movie never quite coming into its own, yet hardly what I’d call a waste of time.
Loosely based on the best-selling book by Liz Tuccillo (it took three screenwriters to flesh out the adaptation), the story revolves around Alice (Johnson), a young college graduate who tells her longtime boyfriend Josh (Nicholas Braun) they need to take a break from their relationship in hopes she’ll learn more about herself by being single. Living with her physician sister Meg (Mann), she gets a job at a prestigious Manhattan law firm as a paralegal, making the acquaintance of the outgoing Robin (Wilson). The two hit it off right away, Alice’s party-loving coworker making it her mission to teach her new friend the glories of the single life and all the fun that comes along with it.
There’s not a lot more to it. Alice comes into contact with a variety of men, including sexy bar owner Tom (Anders Holm) and industrious single father David (Damon Wayans Jr.), while at the same time her big sis decides to get herself artificially inseminated while also starting up a romantic relationship with the younger Ken (Jake Lacy). Meanwhile, book-smart Lucy (Alison Brie) uses Tom’s bar for both its Wi-Fi as well as for testing out her dating algorithms, certain that if she doesn’t approach love and romance clinically she’ll never find another to share her life with.
Director Christian Ditter (Love, Rosie) does a pretty decent job crafting a pleasing tone, the pace never faltering as this year (or so) in Alice’s life runs its course. She’ll have a few flings, get unsettled when she discovers Josh is engaged to another and learn a number of life lessons by the time she realizes what she wants from life. While nothing the character discovers is particularly profound, it’s still authentically presented, the emotional actualizations suitably heartfelt.
Johnson, the only good thing about last year’s smash Fifty Shades of Grey, proves she is no flash in the pan, the young actress delivering an enchanting, suitably magnetic performance that’s as complex as it is appealing. She’s the driving force, the one that keeps things interesting no matter what; and as superfluous or achingly banal as events might become, there’s something about her I found positively magnetic come what may. I particularly loved her chemistry with Wayans Jr., the pair sharing some of the film’s stronger scenes as they try to navigate the complexities of a relationship that includes a small child yearning to know more about a mother tragically taken from her much too soon.
But the real joy is Mann. Oscar-worthy in the otherwise regrettably unremarkable This is 40, she’s as wonderful as Meg as she has almost ever been, a sheer multifaceted delight every second she is up there on the screen. There is a delicate balance to her performance that’s heavenly, her scenes with Lacy hinting at a sublime May-December romance I really wish the film could have taken the time to explore in a heck of a lot more depth.
Wilson is Wilson, meaning that while she doesn’t do anything we haven’t seen before, she’s utilized well enough that the fact she’s doing her patented shtick isn’t an issue. Ditter doesn’t allow her to dominate to the point she could become annoying, instead filtering her in and out of the film only when it needs a jolt of juvenile electricity. There’s a third act revelation in regards to Robin that’s not handled particularly well, but both Wilson and Johnson are so charismatically naturalistic it ends up working much better than it has any right to, the two actresses proving to be a swell pair of teammates whose friendship rings merrily true.
The subplot involving Brie is frankly not very good, the film never utilizing the talented actress as well as it potentially could have. Also, while Holm is smolderingly hot and easy on the eyes, the way he weaves in and out of things is more sophomoric than it is anything else, his whole demeanor and arc like something out of a second-tier sitcom than it is anything substantive. It should also be said that the script only hints at depth without ever achieving it, making the final payoff, as natural and as unforced as it might be, feel a little underwhelming because of this.
Even so, I found How to Be Single difficult to dislike. Wilson generates a number of heartfelt laughs, Johnson is a magnetically compelling lead and Mann is just plain spectacular, stealing every scene she’s in with an effortlessness that’s just plain super. As slight as it all proves to be, the positives make the negatives worthy of enduring, and it’s highly plausible when I look back at this one again in a few months my feelings towards many of its misgivings and more obvious shortcomings could potentially disappear entirely.
Film Rating: 2½ (out of 4)