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How to Be Single' deserves to be alone

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Rom-com attempts edginess, fails to resonate

Plenty of people critics and consumers alike are happily dismissive of romantic comedies out of hand. I, however, am not one of them. There's something inherently romantic about the medium; movies are great vehicles for the telling of love stories. Call them cheesy, call them trite, call them whatever you like they can absolutely have value. They don't always, mind you, but they can.

This is where a distinction needs to be made; I'm talking about WELL-MADE romantic comedies here. There are certainly plenty of terrible rom-coms out there, just like there are terrible examples of every genre of film. Granted, romantic comedy tends to lean into formula and hackneyed tropes more than most, so it's always a delight when a solid one pops up.

'How to Be Single' clearly wanted to be one of those solid offerings; it's an obvious attempt at sending up and subverting the conventions of the genre. Unfortunately, it is an attempt that largely fails, as the film is quickly and irrevocably ensnared and subdued by those same conventions.

Alice (Dakota Johnson, 'Black Mass') has just left college and her college boyfriend Josh (Nicholas Braun, 'Poltergeist') behind to move to the big city and try to discover who she really is. She's staying with her single doctor sister Meg (Leslie Mann, 'Vacation') and gets a job as a paralegal, working alongside unrepentant party girl Robin (Rebel Wilson, 'Pitch Perfect 2').

Alice has never really been single, so Robin cheerfully (and profanely) volunteers to help her navigate the social waters. One of their primary stops is the bar run by Tom (Anders Holm, TV's 'Workaholics'), a roguish never-settle-down sort who takes great pride in his hook-up honesty, though he's oddly intrigued by the new tenant upstairs, a woman named Lucy (Allison Brie, 'Sleeping with Other People') who is desperately seeking marriage.

As Alice struggles with her feelings about Joshand Tomand another guy named David (Damon Wayans Jr., TV's 'New Girl'), her sister Meg has decided to become a single mother and gets pregnant via IVF right before she meets a guy named Ken (Jake Lacy, 'Meet the Coopers') who she really likes, but who she also finds herself pushing away. Meanwhile, Tom watches as Lucy goes through a succession of men (Colin Jost from 'SNL' and Jason Mantzoukas from 'The League' foremost among them) and learns that maybe there's more to life than hooking up.

Along the way, there's a bunch of cursing and some vague empowerment stuff that is basically just window dressing for a story that is remarkably same-old same-old at its core.

What's frustrating about a movie like 'How to Be Single' is that it could have actually been really good, a fresh (or at least fresher) perspective on romantic comedies specifically the role of women in them. Instead, it hides behind a whole lot of crassness, camouflaging its tired clichs with feints toward enlightenment before settling for the status quo.

It's a lazy movie in a lot of ways. The script based on the book of the same name by Liz Tuccillo and adapted by Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein and Dana Fox isn't nearly as subversive or interesting as it believes itself to be, leaving us with a cast of characters whose generally poor and often self-destructive decisions never elicit any sort of sympathy. It's difficult to care about people who generally don't care about other people.

That said, the cast has enough inherent likeability to keep things from completely devolving into a Darkest Timeline 'Sex and the City.' The push to make Johnson a leading lady is ongoing; she's talented, but she has yet to find a project that mines the most from her abilities. Still, any empathy the audience feels for Alice is Johnson's doing, not the script. Wilson and Mann are giving it their all; both parts foul-mouthed partier (Wilson) and vaguely sad type-A striver (Mann) are essentially default roles for them. Mann is the closest to a sympathetic character we get, while Wilson manages to wring a few laughs from her increasingly-tired shtick. Brie is actually kind of wasted here; she's fine, but much like Johnson, one wishes the script had made better use of her skill set.

As for the men, well Holm is undeniably charming and funny, but he's still sadly one-note. Lacy has a couple of delightful scenes he and Mann work well together. Jost is workmanlike, while Mantzoukas continues to show that giving him a supporting role in your movie almost guarantees a funnier final product.

'How to Be Single' desperately wants you to think that it is somehow different than its more traditional counterparts, but despite a few decorative trappings, the film remains a formulaic rom-com in subversive clothing.

[1 out of 5]

Last modified on Wednesday, 17 February 2016 09:24

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