The very fact that I went into How to Be Single bathed in dread, expecting the worst, but found myself not minding the experience — well, mostly not minding it — is pretty close to a ringing endorsement. It is as close as I’m getting to one, and somehow “not minding it” doesn’t strike me as something likely to end up on a DVD cover. The irony to the whole thing, though, is I ended up seeing this at all because I gave my cohort Justin Souther a choice between this and Zoolander 2. I cringed when he wished this on me, but now suspect I got the better end of a bad deal. Still, this is a long way from a recommendation. If you insist on something approaching a recommendation, I will note that Dakota Johnson is much better here than in last year’s Fifty Shades of Grey, if only because she doesn’t bite her lower lip to express whatever infantile sexuality that was meant to express. Further, this was the first performance I’ve seen from Jake Lacy that didn’t remind me of an especially uncharismatic block of wood.
Honestly, apart from the fact that How to Be Single never actually answers its own question (unless going to New York, getting a cushy job, having endless supplies of money and getting a kooky friend counts) of whether it’s more of a drama than the comedy it’s being marketed as — and that I have no clue why Alison Brie’s character is even in the movie — it’s really not that bad. But neither is it all that good. It is, as I told the young lady taking tickets at The Carolina when I left the theater, harmless.
The story — such as it is — finds Alice (Johnson) deciding to take a break from her long-term boyfriend, Josh (Nicholas Braun) in order to go to New York to find herself. Seems she went from living at home to living in a dorm to living with him, and she wants to find out what it’s like to be single. Fair enough, I suppose, but I’m not sure that moving in with her older sister, Meg (Leslie Mann), is all that different from living at home. No matter, since that falls apart when her “kooky” new friend Robin (the seemingly ubiquitous Rebel Wilson) slides naked down the laundry chute in Meg’s building. (Fortunately, we only hear about this.) Since this is, of course, The Movies writ large, Alice immediately gets a really nice apartment (finances are never an issue in movies like this) and continues her New York adventure.
While Alice flails away, Meg — an obstetrician firmly opposed to babies — gets all gooey-eyed when a patient leaves her in charge of a picture-perfect infant, and opts for artificial insemination. What she has not reckoned on is falling in love with a hunky younger guy (Jake Lacy). Complications ensue. And then there’s Lucy (Brie), whose character seems like some kind of afterthought. Seriously, I never quite understood why she was even in the movie, and her part could have been cut without major loss. Or any loss at all.
What are we left with? Well, it’s a fairly innocuous movie that isn’t painful to sit through. It doesn’t have many laughs (unless you simply think Rebel Wilson doing her usual Rebel Wilson outrageous shtick is intrinsically funny). It — and its candy-coated version of NYC — has little, if any, connection to reality, though I don’t suppose that was the idea anyway. This is pure escapist fluff. It’s a movie where you’re supposed to believe that the rich guy (Damon Wayans Jr.) Alice just met just happens to own a building that has the world’s best view of the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Plaza — at just the moment she was on her way to see said tree. If that appeals to you, so may this movie. Rated R for sexual content and strong language throughout.