How to Be Single’s well-intentioned attempts at social commentary fail to make up for it’s generally clumsy direction
Following the huge success of female-led films such as Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck and Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s Sisters, How to Be Single has much to live up to. The film explores the journey of a young woman named Alice (Dakota Johnson) living in New York, and attempting to navigate her life as a newly single woman. Along the way, she befriends the riotous Robin (Rebel Wilson), and they share many wild nights out together partying. Following several failed relationships, Alice arrives at the state of harmony where she believes she live can happily, and unapologetically, single. In order for such a predictable storyline to have an effect, it needs to be executed perfectly—or the audience will be left feeling cold and manipulated. Unfortunately, How to Be Single doesn’t quite succeed in doing this.
Perhaps the film’s greatest success, like in Trainwreck, was the candid way it explores female sexuality and femininity—something to be proud of. Robin’s hearty sexual appetite is depicted as healthy and enjoyable and not at all like a coping mechanism for a heart left shattered by a cheating man—such a familiar trope in so many romantic comedies. The women in the film are, and rightfully so, are never questioned or shamed for their personal choices; whether it be committing their lives to their careers, or wanting to enjoy a fast-paced partying lifestyle. Although the film is progressive in this sense, it is nevertheless difficult to ignore the disappointing fact that these three women are still very much stereotypes. Leslie Mann’s character finds herself unfulfilled as a result of her childlessness, reinforcing the perception that a woman is only truly a woman and happy as one when she has kids. Similarly, Rebel Wilson’s character is portrayed as being genuinely content and settled into her life choices. But towards the end of the film, Robin is revealed to be, in fact, filthy rich—suggesting maybe that the filmmakers felt it might be too harrowing for her to be a woman, living alone and making the choices she has because she doesn’t need a regular salary.
Perhaps taking the film only as social commentary is the wrong thing to do. In terms of its capabilities as a romantic comedy, it certainly succeeds on many levels. Rebel Wilson provides terrific light entertainment with her slapstick—particularly what looked like very real—titty punches and references falling into “dick sand”. It certainly has romance, too: the sweetest (and most unbelievable) relationship with Jake Lacey’s character’s unwavering love for Meg. The scenes of downing never-ending shots to a thumping soundtrack were undeniably entertaining to watch, too.
Yet, as a whole, it seemed that the film lacked direction—a problem which can be seen in some of Christian Ditter’s other films, like Love Rosie. The last 15 minutes of this film was made up out of a series of unfitting and laboured conclusions, with a voice-over from Dakota Johnson’s character, clumsily tying the film together. Having to be told how all the characters are feeling at this point—rather than be allowed to decide for ourselves—distances the viewer and increases the sense of directorial catch up.
All in all, How to Be Single fundamentally fails to evoke a great emotional response in ways that Trainwreck did. It does manage, however, to make an attempt at tackling the detrimental and stereotypical perceptions of the modern day woman that are so enforced in so many mainstream films. The ending of the film is a testament to this—instead of running across the city to a man once realising she is in fact in love with him, Alice runs to her friend, Robin. It is a shame that the rest of the film couldn’t combine these two elements of traditional entertainment and critiquing important issues in a seamless way.