By: Kevin Jordan
Jerking us around.
Like last year’s Love the Coopers, How to be Single is an ensemble movie featuring many characters and several stories that kinda, sorta, intertwine. Also, almost all of both movies’ characters are jerks. I don’t know why screenwriters have veered in this direction with their romantic comedy characters lately, but it’s a little hard to hope for a happy ending for people who suck. My initial reaction to this movie was meh, which was also the initial reaction of my sister-in-law, who was gracious enough to accompany me to this film. She also reminded me that How to be Single is a lot like 2009’s He’s Just Not That Into You, but not nearly as good. For the record, He’s Just Not That Into You wasn’t very good either.
How to be Single’s main character is Alice (Dakota Johnson). We first meet Alice as a college freshman who is rescued from an embarrassing situation – in which she is standing naked in a dorm hallway – by Josh (Nicholas Braun), also a college freshman who quickly covers up Alice while ending up naked himself. Sadly, this is the full extent of nudity in a rated-R movie about single people. Yeah, I know – buckle up.
(Here is where the SPOILERS start.)
Fast-forward four years to our young, graduating-from-college couple (of course they became a couple) and we witness Alice pulling a traditional dude move – she wants to take a break from their relationship to discover who she really is. Of course, if she were a dude, this would be code for “I want to have a whole lot of sex with people who aren’t you.” Finishing off the role reversal, Josh is broken and weepy, though does manage to lament about missing her boobs the most, so we know he isn’t completely neutered. Alice moves to New York City, gets a job as a paralegal, crashes at her sister Meg’s (Leslie Mann) place, and meets Robin (Rebel Wilson), who takes it upon herself to teach Alice how to be single. Now, you might think that the hijinks start from there because you saw the trailer and it sure seemed like it would be a funny movie. Remember what I just told you about the nudity, or lack thereof? Lather, rinse, repeat for the hijinks.
Even though Robin is a drunken slut for the entire film, she manages to make herself seem worse by taking Alice out on the town after her first day of work and causing her to be three and a half hours late on her second day. Before we get to see more partying, we are quickly introduced to Tom (Anders Holm), a bar owner who doubles as a man-slut, and Lucy (Alison Brie), a down-on-her-dating-luck woman who thinks she can write an algorithm to find the perfect guy on dating websites. Also, she mooches off the free wifi at Tom’s bar. There is an obvious chemistry between the two of them, but don’t hold your breath because this story resolves itself in just about the worst way possible. Notice how Josh seems to be the only non-jerk so far.
The other side story happening in parallel with Alice is that Meg decides she wants to have a child. No, she is not married. Or dating. Or in any real position to have a child at all considering her devotion to her job as an OBGYN. But, apparently, all women turn to mush when holding a baby, even those who tell us they delivered 3,000 babies and never wanted to have kids. I guess 3,001 is the magic number and it’s off to the sperm bank for Meg. But don’t worry – Meg meets Ken (Jake Lacy) during her first trimester and he attaches to her like a leech. And, that’s before he finds out about the baby. Meg reveals her inner jerk by pushing him away for no reason at all, but that puppy dog returns before the end credits to hold that baby and profess his undying love. Kids.
Anyway, getting back to our main jerk, Alice takes a cue from Robin and bangs one out with Tom. After a few more nights of finding herself – being drunk, or hungover, or walking with shame – she decides she’s figured it out and goes back to Josh. Unfortunately, Josh has moved on (in what seems to be a couple of weeks at most) and, proving that he does in fact have testicles, tells Alice off and leaves her alone. This is actually the closest this movie ever comes to the truth with regards to being single, but this happens at roughly the thirty-minute mark. I know.
At this point in the film, I was thoroughly bored and trying to guess what was going to happen next. I thought Lucy’s algorithm would lead her to Josh, that Alice and Robin would befriend Lucy (they all frequent Tom’s bar nearly every night), but then find out about Josh and Lucy and have the big misunderstanding. This would have tied their stories together nicely, but the movie never even tries to tie the women together. Instead, Tom realizes he has fallen for Lucy and the closest Alice and Lucy’s stories come to mixing is that they both know who Tom is. Wait, it gets worse.
Our last jerk comes in the form of David (Damon Wayans Jr.). His comedic talent is completely wasted, as he plays a widower with a young daughter. He and Alice strike up a relationship that we barely see, consisting of David starting out wildly charming, then, three months later, yelling at Alice for singing a song to his daughter. He breaks up with her on the spot and I can’t believe I remember this much of such a drab movie. And, just to show you how much of a jerk David truly is, he doesn’t even redeem himself by the end of the movie, even when he has a chance to. I think “gachhh” is the word you are looking for.
Finally, back to Josh. For Hollywood reasons, Josh and Alice keep running into each other. It’s awkward every time, and Josh’s relationship has progressed with each run-in. He even invites Alice over for his Christmas party to make sure she isn’t alone on Christmas. I know it seems like Josh isn’t a jerk, but he blows that one before the credits role (and if you don’t see it coming, it’s because you fell asleep).
I realize that I just told you a whole lot of what happens in this movie, but I really wanted to make sure you took two things away from it. One – every person not named Ken in this movie sucks and only Ken is worthy of any sympathy. On top of that, many of the stories in the film are underdeveloped because there are simply too many characters and things going on to devote any time on them. I nearly choked laughing when the mostly under-twenty-five female audience went “AWWWWWW” when Ken showed back up at the end. Don’t they know they were tricked into believing that there was love between two characters whose entire shown interaction consisted of copy-room sex, arguing about a Christmas tree, and fighting in a baby store? Those girls are in for a rude awakening.
The second thing is that the movie wasn’t very funny. Yes, there are a handful of funny parts – mostly in the form of crude, British-accented one-liners from Robin – but the movie seemed far too concerned with thinking of as many different versions of single people as it could, rather than focusing on teaching its main character how to actually be single and having fun with that. When a movie’s most notable gag is showing Alice unable to unzip her own clothes (if she can’t unzip them, how did she get them zipped in the first place?!), you know the com part of rom-com was just someone jerking you around.
Rating: Ask for nine dollars back because at least Rebel Wilson was trying to make you laugh.