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Dakota Johnson does a lot of things onscreen for the sake of illustrating the many sides of singlehood, but one particular action in How to Be Single acts as a motif to which women — regardless of relationship status — can relate: unzipping a dress.
At first, Johnson’s Alice has her long-term college boyfriend help her with the zipper down her back, a routine action that doesn’t require a formal ask or a conversation pause. But once alone in New York City, what seems like a simple step to undressing at night becomes a moment of both physical comedy and frustrating realism — and later, of tangible independence.
“I just throw my back out every time I have to zip up my own dress,” Johnson tells The Hollywood Reporter. “That was fun for me [to shoot] because I got to use my body in a funny way. I thought it was quite clever.” Rebel Wilson adds of the scenes, “That’s very relatable! Every girl knows that feeling.”
The idea for the motif came from a real-life anecdote about a powerful single woman who was being honored at various work events, but would ask her driver to unzip her dress once dropped off at home afterward. This unzipping struggle features on the cover of Liz Tuccillo book upon which the film is based, but isn’t anywhere in the actual book.
“Being single is awesome and empowering a lot of the time, but sometimes it’s just inconvenient for life,” says screenwriter Abby Kohn. She and co-writer Marc Silverstein nearly had Alice “going downstairs and asking the Korean grocer to help her out of her dress” at one point, and another discarded version — originating from Kohn’s informal focus groups, or “a group of ladies at my house with Thai takeout and wine” — saw Alice struggling to open a jar of spaghetti sauce when desperately hungry in the middle of the night.
Co-writer Dana Fox pushed the idea further and came up with Alice’s ingenious solution. “I thought that was such a poignant and weirdly interesting detail, and I saw it as a way to show a character who’s going from more co-dependent and needs other people to help her with stuff to, ‘Screw it. I’ll do it,'” notes Fox. As for the at-home fix, “I made it up because, well, I want that!”
A few other tasks bug the How to Be Single cast when they’re single. For example, Alison Brie is admittedly helpless whenever the Internet breaks down, and Wilson says she struggles when moving furniture. “Say you want something — it’s so sexist — really heavy moved, I wait for a guy to come around and say, ‘This pot plant I just got from Restoration Hardware, can you move it there to the back?'”
Jake Lacy mostly misses an honest second opinion. “As a guy alone, you think, ‘Maybe I’d look awesome with a shaved chest,’ and you don’t have anyone to say, ‘That’s a horrible idea,’ until you’ve done it and realize I look awful. ‘What have I done? I’ve ruined myself and I’m going to the beach today — how do I lie about this to people?!’ Not that that’s happened to me and that I currently have a shaved chest. Uh, this happened to a friend of mine’s brother.”
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