Dakota Johnson and Rebel Wilson in How to Be Single
How to Be Single is a romantic comedy so bad I’m shocked it doesn’t star Chris Evans. This movie’s idea of romance is only appealing to narcissists, and it’s sex-positive attitude is mere lipstick on a heteronormative ideal where every woman secretly wants babies and marriage no matter what she says and dum-dum ladies are incapable of knowing what they want and only form their identities around men and how they can attract them. The cast is too talented to allow the movie to be a total loss, but that makes How to Be Single a special kind of hell, because you can see the outline of a better, sharper, funnier movie in every second of the interminable 110 minute run time. (Generally I don’t think running times ought to be mandated, but there is absolutely no call for a hundred-minute-plus rom-com.)
The movie begins with Alice (Dakota Johnson) going on a “break” with her college sweetheart, Josh, because she wants to find out who she is on her own, since she’s never been single. Single wants to be a rom-com about dating yourself, and at some point it was probably a fairly sharp comedy about a young woman exploring her singleton status, but then someone—probably a dude and probably middle-aged—got a hold of the script and didn’t understand a movie about a lady learning to love herself through casual sex. “What?” I imagine he said. “She sleeps with a man and she’s friends with him yet neither of them want anything more than that? Fix this at once! At once I say!”
If Single just contained Alice’s story, it would be fine. It still wouldn’t be very funny, but at least the story of a young woman learning to be happy on her own would be a step outside the traditional rom-com bubble. And if we throw in the side-story of Alice’s co-worker Rebel Wilson, playing Rebel Wilson, an unapologetically promiscuous woman who is shamed neither for her sexuality or her figure, we’d be on really solid ground. Someone at some point wanted Single to be a progressive Millennial rom-com, and the Rebel Wilson plot is the closest we get to actually progressing beyond the stereotypes of the romantic comedy genre. But Alice’s emotional journey to Happy Singleton is so muddled it requires a voice over at the end to inform us that no seriously, I’m totally happy on my own you guys, and I swear I just adopted the one cat. Okay, two cats, but that’s only because they encourage you to adopt in pairs and I promise I won’t be getting any more cats, it’s just going to be me and Princess Porcupine and Mr. Fuzzleworth until I die alone and you find me weeks later dead on the floor of my apartment with the cats eating my face.
When Alice moves to New York she crashes with her older sister, Meg (Leslie Mann), an OB/Gyn who doesn’t want a child until she does, and is happy to be a single mother right up until she isn’t. Also in New York is Lucy (Alison Brie), a complete random who just happens to hang out at the same bar as Alice and her friends, and who is a Type A control freak using multiple dating apps to try and find Mr. Right. Instead of presenting Lucy as an actual romantic stymied by the impersonal nature of app-enabled dating, instead she’s just a shrew-bitch glomming onto any man who shows her a single iota of attention because women are emotionally unstable needy monsters.
As much as you can feel Single trying to break rom-com stereotypes, ultimately it can’t shed the formula. It pays lip service to happy singlehood, but the messaging throughout the rest of the movie undercuts the ending. It wants to be a movie about women finding themselves beyond the influence of men, yet the entire movie is concerned with showing us those very same women constantly defining themselves based on their current relationship with men. All single women secretly pine for the right guy to come along and save them from their spinsterhood, that’s the moral of the story. It’s less How to Be Single and more How Not to Be A Spinster.
Attached - Dakota Johnson arriving in Vancouver on Monday for Fifty Shades Darker.