For a film that’s titled How to Be Single an awful lot of the running time is spent with the single ladies trying to find Mr. Right. A better title might have been How to Stop Being Single, although there is one character who remains steadfast in her desire to hook up without worrying about any commitments. However, that character – played by the lovely Rebel Wilson – isn’t the ‘single’ in need of lessons on how to function without a plus 1. That honor goes to Dakota Johnson who appears infinitely more comfortable in the role of a newly single young woman adrift in the big city than she did experiencing the Red Room antics in Fifty Shades of Grey.
How to Be Single works best when it focuses on instant BFFs Robin (Wilson) and Alice (Johnson). Robin’s a real wild child, promiscuous, profane, and full of life. Alice is more subdued, less likely to follow her hormones wherever they want to lead her. Together, they’re quite the team, exploring bars – and bartenders – while Robin proclaims their independence. Alice isn’t so much into the whole dating scene and quickly learns that maybe the guy she broke up with, Josh (played by Nicholas Braun), was actually the one she was supposed to spend her life with. Unfortunately for Alice, her timing sucks and when she’s done sowing her oats and ready to settle, Josh has already moved on.
Anders Holm co-stars as Tom the bartender, a bachelor so dedicated to remaining single that he cuts off the water supply to his sink so that his thirsty conquests will have to leave if they need water after sex. Alison Brie is so committed to ensuring her online dating profiles will lead her to a man who checks all of her boxes that she obsesses over algorithms and conducts detailed analysis of dating trends. Leslie Mann shows up in a supporting role as Alice’s big sister, an obstetrician who, after a heart-to-heart with an adorable baby, decides she’s finally ready for one of her own via an anonymous sperm donor. And Jake Lacy and Damon Wayans Jr. lend support as men who are potential boyfriend material.
How to Be Single smartly avoids putting down men and in fact even when Alice’s ex moves on and she’s brokenhearted about being too late, he’s not made out to be an uncaring jerk who should have waited for her to come to her senses. The relationships overall come across as genuine and authentic, and it’s refreshing to see women fully in charge of their sex lives and not made out to be sleazy just because they have healthy sexual appetites.
Rebel Wilson comes to the rescue whenever the pace gets sluggish or the tone takes a too serious turn. Wilson (often ad-libbing and always unafraid of physical comedy) saves How to Be Single from losing its way multiple times, but Dakota Johnson’s no slouch. Johnson gives Alice the right balance of innocence and cynicism, and the story allows her to alternate between embracing an ‘I Am Woman Hear Me Roar’ attitude to needing comforting hugs and wallowing in her singleness with unhealthy binge-watching of Bridget Jones. Johnson, with her expressive face and soulful eyes, makes you root for Alice to come out of these occasionally heart-wrenching life lessons unscathed and ready to take on the world.
How to Be Single is smart, funny, bawdy, and bold, and, with its R-rating, strictly for adults. Although it dwells a little too much on Mann’s character’s attempt to get pregnant, for the most part the ensemble is put to good use and characters are allowed to have their own little arcs all while serving the central story of Alice’s journey to learn find happiness in being single.
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content and strong language throughout
Running Time: 110 minutes