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I’m Just Not That Into ‘How To Be Single’ (Movie Review)

how to be single thumbThere is something to be said for how close to good the otherwise messy How To Be Single is. Taking a sharp turn from last year’s Valentine’s Day weekend release starring Dakota Johnson, Fifty Shades of Grey, here we have a film that manages to settle down every now and then to provide some genuine laughs and endearing moments. The film is sadly too cluttered and lacking in much depth beyond anything that can’t be explained in a self-gratifying ending voice-over monologue, but it does have its moments.

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Johnson stars as Alice, a recent college grad who decides to go on a break from her boyfriend to be sure he’s the one, only to have that blow up in her face pretty quickly. She is one of four female leads, which includes Rebel Wilson as ‘party girl’ Robin, Leslie Mann as ‘secretly baby crazy’ Meg and Alison Brie as ‘desperately wanting to get married’ Lucy. There are a gaggle of guys too, but they are woefully underdeveloped, with the exception of ladies’ man/bartender Tom (Anders Holm).

It should be noted that this film is set in New York City, but given the abilities of a young paralegal to afford a super nice apartment on her own, fantastical rooftop birthday parties that must have been sponsored to exist and convenient cabs being hailed on fairly uncrowded streets, it may as well be Narnia’s version of NYC. Regardless, this is an ensemble rom-com based on a best-selling novel (from what I hear, much of the novel’s elements have been scrapped), written by many of the folks behind He’s Just Not That Into You (decent film).

What matters are the various misadventures these women go on, in an attempt to live their lives in the big city and negotiate the possibilities of potential relationships. This matters to some of ladies (Lucy) more than others (Robin). The film is not particularly deep in delivering good insight, but director Christian Ditter does attempt to make up for it with visual flourishes related to magic numbers of drinks required to hook up and trailer-friendly moments allowing for Wilson to shine through physical comedy and colorful one-liners.

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Fortunately, there are a number of scenes where the quest for a change in relationship status is pushed to the background and characters can just have fun or thoughtful conversations. Scenes between Johnson and Mann, who play sisters, work well when the two of them are allowed to simply banter. Johnson, who is ostensibly the film’s lead, has a number of moments with various characters that support why she was the only bright spot in 2015’s mostly forgettable Valentine’s blockbuster.

Too bad her generally friendly chemistry with others seems off every time the film forces her to become too naïve to properly function in society for the sake of character development down the line. It calls back to someone like Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada, where the main character basically gets to be in an adult afterschool special about living in the big city, despite all the other more interesting characters around her.

There’s also the matter of How To Be Single’s jarring tonal changes.  The film jumps around in time by flash-forwarding several months now and again. As a result, we miss out on learning more about certain characters (Damon Wayans, Jr. for example), but deal with sudden drama that erupts out of nowhere. Perhaps that is supposed to be akin to how life works, but the film’s desire to be lightweight fun rubs against this notion the wrong way.

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Mentioning Wayans does bring up another thought though, as the film does have fairly positive messages based around what it doesn’t do. There may be contrived plot developments, but the film doesn’t do anything to play up Wayans and Johnson being in an interracial relationship (nor should it have to, nor should I even have to mention it). The film also avoids punishing its characters, as this is not one that needs antagonists or actions that need to be vilified.

Really, aside from Wilson’s antics (which really feel like insertions for the sake of a marketing campaign), this is a fairly laid back comedy. That also means it is fairly disposable and the messiness doesn’t help, but there are worse ways to approach this kind of film (one film example is named after the holiday it was released on). How To Be Single has moments that defy the movie most would expect. Too bad it doesn’t run with the smaller bits that really work.

[Final Note: Jason Mantzoukas (scene stealer of TV and on podcasts) has a small role in this film, with a key scene that is hilarious. To those who can, give this man more work.]

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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