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"HOW TO BE SINGLE"
(2016) (Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Romantic Comedy: A number of twenty-somethings navigate sex, love, loss, and life in modern-day New York City.
PLOT:
Alice (DAKOTA JOHNSON) moved from her parents' house to a university dorm and then into an apartment with her boyfriend, Josh (NICHOLAS BRAUN). After four years together and having just graduated from college, Alice decides she wants to try being single in New York City just for the experience and convinces Josh to put their relationship on hiatus. She moves in with her career-driven older sister, Meg (LESLIE MANN); quickly makes friends with the promiscuous party girl, Robin (REBEL WILSON); has a one-night stand with bartender and confirmed bachelor, Tom (ANDERS HOLM); and gets into a nice, tender relationship with widower and young father, David (DAMON WAYANS Jr.)

Meanwhile, Meg has decided to get pregnant via a sperm donor. But then she meets her young dream guy, Ken (JAKE LACY), and keeps her condition from him. Tom, meanwhile, begins to develop real feelings for the first time in his life. Her name is Lucy (ALISON BRIE), a neurotic blogger who ends up getting into a committed relationship herself with stable, steady bookstore manager, George (JASON MANTZOUKAS).

It all comes to a head at Alice's rooftop birthday party, where Robin invites a now-engaged Josh along with both Tom and David. Lucy is also there and is now also engaged, to George. And Meg's water breaks and has to be rushed to the hospital by Alice and Robin.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Ooof! The new rom-com "How to Be Single" comes a lot closer to being a recommend than I could ever have imagined from the trailers and commercials. The film feels stuck between being everything a guy like me fears from these kinds of flicks to being everything I actually like and enjoy about them. I'm as big a sap as anyone. My DVD shelves feature such classics of the genre as "When Harry Met Sally," "Love Actually," and "The Wedding Singer." And there are elements of these fine films in "How to Be Single," providing its best, warmest, and wittiest moments.

But it's also a fractured and wildly inconsistent movie, too, that alternates between being nod-your-head wise and face-palm dumb. It's based on a novel, so there is more of an attempt at character and introspection here than in your standard movie of this type. If produced outside of the studio system and directed by someone with a real edge and point of view, something like this could have been a generational touchstone. But because this is a major Hollywood production being positioned for the Valentine's Day weekend, it's riddled with clichés, variations of characters you've seen in countless other films, and doofus sex hijinks and bad music montages meant to get easy laughs and trailer-friendly one-liners. It's too uneven for me to recommend. But, man, there is some good stuff here that I didn't expect that I wish had been saved for another better movie.

"How to Be Single" delivers a year-in-the-life narrative that follows an ensemble of characters navigating love, sex, life, and loss in modern-day New York. The Manhattan setting feels done to death at this point, but ah well. There's the film's de facto lead, Alice (Dakota Johnson), who has broken up with her good-guy college boyfriend, Josh (Nicholas Braun, the poor man's Justin Long) of four years so she can go act out scenes from "Sex and the City" until she decides that she wants him back. She moves in with her older sister, Meg (Leslie Mann), an unmarried, career-obsessed OB/GYN who boasts of delivering 3,000 babies and now wants one of her own.

Alice becomes friends with coworker Robin (Rebel Wilson), a spectacularly promiscuous law-firm receptionist who introduces her to a bartender, Tom (Anders Holm), a die-hard bachelor who has set up his entire life to support his steady string of one-night stands and casual hook-ups. Tom and Alice have "Welcome to New York" sex. But he's more into Lucy (Alison Brie), a marriage-obsessed blogger who is a member of eight dating apps and websites to ensure the most chances of finding the right mate.

The film is supposed to be about these characters finding inner autonomy and embracing the adventures of life. But that's just a load of you-know-what. They're still just a bunch of guys and gals, standing in front of a bunch of guys and gals, asking each other to love them. And when real feelings and emotions become too much for these screenwriters to handle, they haul the Robin character in for a scene or two to guzzle booze, yell or do something deeply crass, and urge Alice to sleep with as many men as possible even though she can't remember most of the guys she's had sex with because of her alcohol-fueled blackouts. Everyone else is playing it straight and going for the heart. But Wilson's performance is so outsized from the rest, it's like she's coming in from a completely different movie. Something like "How to Be HIV Positive."

And then there is the unforgivable messiness of the screenplay. Brie's Lucy meets her dream guy just past the film's midway point and is barely seen or heard from again. That leaves the Tom character adrift and he transforms into that decades-old cliché of the playboy secretly yearning to be tamed by the love of a good woman. In addition, Damon Wayans Jr. factors into a really sweet subplot as a widowed dad who meets Alice at an alumni event and wonders if he can start to love again. But he is also discarded before his story can kick in and then shows up late in the film for a curtain call (his last scene in the film, though, is beautifully acted ... again, like something out of a completely different film that warranted more screen time).

This is a real shame, because the screenplay does have stuff that made me giggle, laugh, and feel like that scene I just mentioned. I also liked Jake Lacy as the nearly too-perfect, younger man Meg meets after she becomes pregnant via a sperm donor. And the film has fun with some very minor characters, too. Reviewers rarely praise incidental characters and one-scene performances. But a young actor named Jonathan Braylock plays a cabbie in this film. He gets one line at a key moment. And he just kills it! Best line in the film. Good for him!

I wish there were more moments like that one. I just got pulled out of the movie too many times to sign off on it. Should I read up on "How to Be a More Forgiving Critic?" Nah! I'm trying to save you good folks some money! I give this a 5 out of 10 (T. Durgin)




Reviewed February 9, 2016 / Posted February 12, 2016


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