As the title itself suggests, “How to be Single” follows the story of a handful of women trying to lead proactive single lives in New York City – in other words, “Sex and the City.” Though there are slight adjustments, both the group dynamic and the plot take some truly bizarre and puzzling turns. This is a nearly two-hour-long film and given the length, it’s hard to ascertain whether it’s a movie, a slew of sketch comedies or an instructional video on relationships. It’s a confusing experience.
The chief protagonist is Alice (played by Dakota Johnson of “Fifty Shades of Grey” fame). Alice has been in a long-term relationship throughout college and opts to take a break from her boyfriend despite the relationship being in perfect condition, merely to discover herself. (Ugh, women.) She moves to New York City and begins working for a law firm where she meets Robin (played by Rebel Wilson), a woman who has perfected the single lifestyle. Robin takes up the mantle of friend and mentor, encouraging Alice to embrace the debaucheries of single life, much like Darth Vader attempting to recruit Luke Skywalker to the dark side. Beside that, there’s a whole swath of supporting characters including Alison Brie, Damon Wayans Jr. and Anders Holm, each debating whether to enter or leave the single life. Leslie Mann plays a major role as Alice’s single sister, who is contemplating having a baby. This acts as a counterbalance to the multitude of raucous and raunchy elements to the film.
The ensemble cast isn’t massive by any means, compared to other films that might pack a punch with several leads or supporting characters, but the plot isn’t heavily grounded in any given character. While Alice is the definite lead, the film chooses to explore the storylines of Mann’s and Brie’s characters with just as much time and effort. Consequently, the entire movie feels disjointed without a strong anchor. There is an effort to intertwine the male characters’ narratives with Johnson, Mann and Brie, but that endeavor largely fails since there is no meaningful conclusion to any of the story lines.
While this can be a huge letdown, the movie doesn’t end in shambles, thanks primarily to Rebel Wilson. Her trademark nonchalant humor is absent here, replaced with a more energetic fervor. This adjustment doesn’t affect her ability to make audiences laugh, frequently delivering snappy dialogue in the most crucial moments when the audience’s interest may be waning. The other cast members also do their best in the acting department, complementing Wilson’s comedic abilities with their own wisecracking. Appearances from Jake Lacy as a romantic interest for one female character midway through the film do wonders, frequently outdoing Wilson’s own shenanigans.
The commendable cast should have had a more structured plot to better engage the viewer with each character. To be concise: the plot is a sloppy trainwreck and leads through messy detours and half-steps to an unfulfilling conclusion. But this doesn’t bury the movie six feet under; “How to be Single” wasn’t intended to play out as a conventional movie. Targeting primarily young women and not this writer, it will deliver on its end with laughs and an abundance of adorable moments. There will be “Oohs” and “Awwws” every now and then, especially since Mann’s character works in a hospital with children. The entire affair is not meant to feel like a movie, but more like an extended episode of a television sitcom, where multiple story lines can play out separately without strong entanglements.
The film is mediocre at best, but could show a robust box office performance with its timely release so close to Valentine’s Day. It has its moments here and there in sporadic outbursts, but isn’t worth a trip to the movie theater. Save that visit for an outing with Derek Zoolander or Deadpool and opt out of a conventional Feb. 14.