'How to Be Single': Film Review

Courtesy of Youtube/Warner Bros.
This offbeat comedy about sex and the city delivers a surprisingly high quotient of solid laughs.

Dakota Johnson stars in this comedy about the romantic misadventures of single women in the big city.

Much like its characters' romantic lives, How to Be Single is more enjoyable when it's being casual. Depicting the amorous misadventures of young and, in one case, not-so-young New Yorkers as they go looking for love in all the wrong places, this latest effort from the screenwriters of such films as He's Just Not That Into You, Valentine's Day and What Happens in Vegas inevitably trods familiar territory. And it frequently falls flat when it tries to invest its lightweight storyline with serious philosophizing. But it offers enough fresh, off-kilter humor to provide amusing comfort to those afflicted with the titular condition on its opening Valentine's Day weekend.

Dakota Johnson, looking far more relaxed and comfortable here than in the Red Room of Pain in 50 Shades of Grey, plays the central role of the fresh-faced Alice, who's temporarily split up with her longtime boyfriend Josh (Nicholas Braun) so she can find herself. Starting a new job as a paralegal at a NYC law firm, she's instantly taken under the wing of her co-worker Robin (Rebel Wilson, not exactly cast against type), a freewheeling force of nature who instructs her in the ways of being single in the big city.

This means, of course, never paying for your own drinks and sleeping with any available guy. Although initially resistant, not to mention super awkward when it comes to attempted flirting, Alice quickly gets with the program, jumping into bed with hunky bartender Tom (Anders Holm), who's such a player that he's turned off his apartment's water pipes so desperately thirsty, hungover women will be forced to leave quickly.

Meanwhile, Alice's single older sister Meg (Leslie Mann), an obstetrician who's delivered over 3,000 babies, finally decides that she wants one of her own after a soul-baring session with an adorable infant briefly left in her care. Just around the time she manages to get pregnant via an anonymous sperm donor, she meets the younger Ken (Jake Lacy, who thanks to such films as this and Love the Coopers is quickly becoming invaluable to rom-coms). Although she's at first only interested in a quick fling to relieve her raging hormones, his persistent wooing eventually weakens her defenses.

Then there's Lucy (Alison Brie), who's maximized her odds at finding a mate by signing on to 10 dating websites and analyzing the algorithms like an obsessive scientist. Lacking a good Wi-Fi connection in her apartment, she hangs out at the bar located at the bottom of her building where she begins attracting the attention of Tom, who starts rethinking his commitment-phobic ways.

Along the way, Alice also meets David (Damon Wayans Jr.), a rich and handsome single dad with a beautiful young daughter and who happens to own a building that can provide Alice with a private view of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.

As evidenced by the trailer — and this is a rare example of a film that's actually better than it appeared — How to Be Single offers generous doses of bawdy humor, from the view of a man's prominent erection in the opening moments to Wilson's steady patter of leering sex jokes. But the funniest moments spring from the idiosyncratic characterizations, from Lacy's lovably zany Ken to Jason Mantzoukas' hilariously offbeat George, the book shop owner who takes a shine to Lucy after she has a meltdown about her love life while reading to a group of young children.

And despite her prominent placement in the trailer, including a scene of her jumping onto a moving cab, Wilson's id-like Robin doesn't completely dominate the picture, but rather provides welcome comic relief when it threatens to get bogged down in ersatz emotion. But even some of those moments register, albeit the quieter ones, such as when Alice is visited by her ex and he easily erases the unwanted Spanish subtitles from her television screen.

"You're so … handy!" she cries, rushing to embrace him. The line says as much about the pain of failed relationships as a dozen romance novels.   

Distributor: Warner Bros.
Production: Flower Films, New Line Cinema, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Wrigley Pictures

Cast: Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Leslie Mann, Damon Wayans Jr., Anders Holm, Alison Brie, Nicholas Braun, Jake Lacy, Jason Mantzoukas
Director: Christian Ditter
Screenwriters: Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein, Dana Fox
Producers: John Rickard, Dana Fox
Executive producers: Marcus Viscidi, Richard Brener, Michael Disco, Dave Neustadlter, Michele Wiss, Drew Barrymore, Nancy Juvonen
Director of photography: Christian Rein
Production designer: Steve Saklad
Editor: Tia Nolan
Costume designer: Leah Katznelson
Composer: Fil Eisler
Casting: Avy Kaufman

Rated R, 110 minutes

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