OP-ROB RATING: BENCH
“How to Be Single” is like a multi-season New York City sitcom jam packed into a feature film. Alice, portrayed by Dakota Johnson, is the main character study; but an ensemble cast includes ten other important yuppies. Alice has just graduated from Wesleyan and broken up with Josh (Nicholas Braun), her boyfriend of four years, in order to experience single life in New York City. Upon arriving at her new job, Alice befriends Robin (Rebel Wilson), an energetic party girl who knows all about being single in the city. With the help of Robin, Alice meets Tom (Anders Holm), a bar owner with a die-hard swinger mentality. They have sex and Tom explains how he handles single life, including a tour of his girlfriend-proof apartment with no breakfast foods and no running water. Satisfied with her experiment of being single, Alice tries to reconnect with Josh. Much to her disappointment, Josh has found another girlfriend and even criticizes Alice for her lack of commitment when they graduated. More hook-ups and plot developments ensue. Alice meets David (Damon Wayans Jr.), a wealthy developer who has recently been widowed and left with a daughter. Alice and David start going out, but she is pushed away because David cannot confront his grief and is protective of his daughter. Ultimately, Alice comes to a realization that being happy as a single person is relative, and for her it means fulfillment in moments of absolute stoicism. Adjacent storylines include Lucy (Alison Brie) and Meg (Leslie Mann). Lucy doesn’t want to be single, but cannot find a man that fits her stringent criteria. Meg is Alice’s older sister who is focused on her career but still wants to have baby.
The main flaw in "How to Be Single" is a severe lack of character development. Most of the people in the movie represent stereotypes rather than intelligent human beings. Tom is the swinger and to him relationships are a waste of time. Lucy is the straight-laced girl who knows exactly what she wants (her character is reminiscent of Monica Geller/Bing from the sitcom "F.R.I.E.N.D.S."). Robin is a rambunctious partier who drinks and does drugs and sleeps around and doesn't care what you think of her (similar to the character portrayed by Amy Schumer in "Trainwreck"). Out of the entire lineup, Alice and David were the only characters that have enough heft to actually care about.
Another major issue with "How to Be Single" is the plot. It doesn't make sense. There are two separate scenes where Meg (Leslie Mann) emphatically breaks up with her boyfriend citing her need to be independent; neither is acknowledged in the slightest by the boyfriend and he just keeps showing up. By the end of the film, three of the main characters have inexplicable changes of heart. In the most shocking example, Josh abandons his "nice-guy" stereotype and makes a purely sexual advance on Alice. The possibility of Josh needed to be eliminated, so his character is hastily warped into a villain. These, and several other scenes feel forced either for the sake of a couple laughs or the structure of the plot.
The misdirection in "How to Be Single" is ultimately the biggest hindrance to the truly relevant characters. David is a compelling person with an interesting backstory, yet he gets maybe 15 minutes of screen time while Robin, an utterly meaningless character receives closer to an hour. A prime example of the writers of "How to Be Single" sacrificing their own creations for a couple jeers comes near the end of the movie in a scene between Tom and Alice. The two are hanging out discussing their relationship woes, when Alice starts counting the number of drinks they have shared. The "drink number" was a bit introduced by Robin earlier in the film where she explains that between two friends, there is a number of drinks that constitutes a definitive sexual encounter. In this scene, Alice frantically counts the beer bottles; she is seemingly adverse to the idea of sex with Tom. Yet Alice counts to the "drink number" and has sex with Tom, a decision she immediately regrets. What are Alice's motivations in this scene? She doesn't have to have sex with Tom. The drink number was a Robin joke, not a rule handed down by God. In this scene the joke is made at the expense of Alice’s character within the movie. But this is a comedy. Why am I fretting over character depth and how realistic the plot is? While "How to Be Single" is labeled as a Romantic Comedy, it makes a concerted effort to be "deep", and the second half of the film is surprisingly somber compared to the first half.
Somewhere hidden in all of the nonsensical scenes that comprise "How to Be Single", there is an attempt to explain how a young woman lives in a post-materialistic society. This is a compelling topic, yet the movie is too distracted and unsure of itself to make provide any concrete answers. "How to Be Single" tries to be a raunchy comedy, a relationship drama, and a philosophical expedition all at the same time. When you break up the movie into each individual storyline, it's easy to see the shallowness of the overall story and the lack of substance within the characters. In the end all that is left is a weak rom-com that wastes its talented cast by not fulfilling any one of its many storylines: it is ironic that a lack of commitment is the downfall of "How to Be Single".