How to Be Single: Leading ladies make middling rom-com work

Dakota Johnson breaks up with a boyfriend to find herself.

Rebel Wilson wants to teach her how single life – and sexual promiscuity – can be really fun.

Leslie Mann puts her job as an OB-GYN over relationships and the possibility of motherhood.

Alison Brie thinks she can manipulate the 10 online dating services she uses to find Mr. Right.

It’s in this vapid, unoriginal “Sex in the City” rip-off premise that audiences find themselves thrust into with “How to Be Single,” a film that unabashedly promotes Singles Awareness Day over Valentine’s Day in a Valentine’s Day weekend release.

What makes this rom-com work, however, is the general likeability of its female stars, which help keep audiences engaged during moments when viewers begin to realize just what shitty people the characters are poorly written to be for much of the nearly two-hour movie.

Johnson shows glimmers of star power and can be very good when given quality material, but scenes where she is able to flex her acting muscles are few and far between in “How to Be Single.” Her Alice has the same innocent charm and charisma Johnson displayed to great effect in “Fifty Shades of Grey” and her beguiling presence works as the film’s central character.

Wilson continues her run of playing the same, tired comic relief sidekick audiences have seen her meander through since “Pitch Perfect.” It’s beyond time to see if she’s capable of playing anything else and take the next step in her career as Melissa McCarthy did with “St. Vincent.” 

By now, writers pitching scripts have to be describing similar roles as “a Rebel Wilson-type” so as not to make it sound offensive when they really mean “a fat, overtly sexual best friend type who doesn’t seem to mind being called slutty.”

Criminally underrated as a comedic actress, Brie makes the most of a limited part as desperate for love Lucy. However, the film’s poor plot structure renders her character almost completely useless and leaves viewers wondering how the hell she gets invited to Alice’s birthday party when she’s never spoken to her once.

Brie could have been better served playing Alice and giving the film added comic timing that Johnson never really seems to nail down.

The stereotypical elder stateswoman, Mann cruises through her part with relative ease, especially once her character takes the inevitably rom-com stereotypical step of going through in-vitro fertilization and getting pregnant on her own.

The men of “How to Be Single” especially come off as terrible people, save for the exceedingly sweet Jake Lacy as a relentless suitor for Mann’s Meg. Nearly all of the choices made by the male characters – and to a large extent, the female characters as well – are reprehensively terrible decisions. It’s as if director Christian Ditter and the screenwriters want viewers to think these people are all assholes.

The script penned by Dana Fox, Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein based off a book of the same name by Liz Tuccillo aims for something higher than the usual romantic comedy fare, but largely misses from a structural standpoint as viewers bounce around from character to character.

It’s a plot device used in recent Garry Marshall films like “Valentine’s Day” and “New Year’s Eve,” though “Single” is a much better movie than both those
ensemble comedies. As much as the film derides “Sex and the City” and “Bridget Jones’ Diary,” “How to Be Single” is indeed the cinematic heir to that style of rom-com, with Johnson’s Alice as close as it may come to a new age Carrie Bradshaw.

Perhaps not enough credit has been given to how much “How to Be Single” overcomes its glaring flaws and is largely entertaining throughout. The four leading ladies are able to carry an otherwise lackluster film and keep audiences engaged when another cast of the same characters could not.

It might not be the second coming of “When Harry Met Sally” or “Sleepless in Seattle,” but “How to Be Single” is worth checking out as a date night for couples or a girls’ night for all the single ladies the film attempts to inspire.

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