How to Be Single is in the same vein of He’s Just Not That Into You, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, and all the other romantic comedies trying to be the next Love Actually. To this movie’s credit, it at least keeps its ensemble tighter and has a few unexpected destinations. Even then, though, How to Be Single doesn’t dig nearly as deep as it could have. Plus, the film isn’t nearly as funny as it could have been. While there are much worse date movies out there for couples to see this time of year, there are still much better ones too.
Dakota Johnson is probably forever cursed to go down as the woman who played Anastasia Steele. Her notorious breakout role aside, Johnson is a perfectly likable young actress. She brings much of that likability to the role of Alice, a city girl who decides to take a break from her long-term boyfriend. She gets a lesson in being single from a party animal co-worker named Robin (Rebel Wilson) and a womanizing bartender named Tom (Anders Holm). Alice also has a single sister named Meg (Leslie Mann), who decides that she wants to have a baby through artificial insemination. Oh, and Alison Brie is somewhere in the mix too as the hopelessly single Lucy.
There’s no doubt that this is a great cast and the actors all do a fine job. Rebel Wilson in particular scores some big laughs as the life of the party. Those genuinely funny moments only pop up every fifteen minutes or so, however. The film doesn’t derive that much humor out of its how to be single premise. As a matter of fact, the film doesn’t provide much insight of the single life either. Most of the characters don’t even have trouble finding a date. If the filmmakers really wanted to make a movie about being single, there would’ve been a lot more scenes with the characters eating cookie dough and streaming Netflix.
How to Be Single is full of love triangles and complex relationships. Alice eventually falls for a wealthy businessman (Damon Wayans Jr.) while still holding a torch for her ex-boyfriend (Nicholas Braun). She also finds the time to have a fling with Tom, who has the hots for Lucy, who’s fallen in love with Jason Mantzoukas’ George. On top of all that, there’s a pretty contrived subplot in which the pregnant Meg hooks up with a much younger man (Jake Lacy), who decides he’s all for being her sugar daddy without a second thought. Of course any movie that asks us to believe Leslie Mann and Dakota Johnson are sisters requires some suspension of disbelief.
The problem with all of these romances is that we don’t spend enough time with anybody to get invested. How to Be Single is often unfocused and awkwardly paced, jumping around with no sense of direction. Much of the film is by the numbers, with exception to the ending. At the risk of giving too much away, a couple characters you expect to get together actually don’t go down that route. The final message in particular is a unique one, especially for a mainstream romantic comedy. Walking out of the theater, though, you can’t help but wish that this moral were in a smarter movie.