Review: How to Be Single

Fitfully amusing ensemble rom-com tries (but fails) to rise above its own cliches.

I spent a large part of How to Be Single resenting it for all the sexist, rom-com clichés it trafficked in.

The aging single woman who’s longing to get pregnant? Check.

The uptight woman obsessed with the perfect marriage? Yup.

The young woman itching to find herself, who discovers that her happiness—in the form of her decent college boyfriend—was right in front of her all along? Uh huh.

The rascally womanizer with the potential to be saved by the love of a good woman? Yeah, he’s there too.

(Also on hand, the all-id, hard-partying, promiscuous Rebel Wilson, who’s become something of a cliché unto herself.)

Except for one thing: Many, if not all, of these regressive scenarios didn’t resolve the way I expected—and the film actually ended up being a lot more progressive than it let on. I just wish it had shown its hand earlier.

Dakota Johnson, fresh off her breakthrough role in Fifty Shades of Grey and sporting an unflattering bob (but still pretty! You can’t fool us, movie!), plays Alice, who leaves her aforementioned college boyfriend Josh (Nicholas Braun) to try life on her own in New York. At the law firm where she works, she meets unrepentant party girl Robin (Wilson), who takes her to the bar where our deeply misogynistic (but adorably rumpled) bartender Tom (Anders Holm), holds court and picks up women. Tom is so commitment-averse that he doesn’t even have running tap water in his house—lest a woman might decide to stay for a glass of water after sex. Living upstairs from the bar is Lucy (Alison Brie), the one who’s obsessed with the perfect marriage, and the object of Tom’s unfamiliar actual affection. Alice lives with her much older sister/mother figure—never explained—Meg (Leslie Mann), an OB-GYN who denies her desire for a baby of her own until she can no longer live a lie. Somehow, Your Midwestern Boyfriend Jake Lacy ™ shows up, too, playing the same affable, charmingly self-effacing character he always plays—he’s pursuing Meg and briefly thinks the baby is his. (She was actually artificially inseminated.) In an underdeveloped storyline, Damon Wayans Jr. plays David, a widowed father pursuing Alice.

There are a few good gags along the way. Rebel Wilson does a brilliant bit of physical comedy involving a marijuana cigarette stuck to her face. Mann has a great moment falling in love with a baby she’s holding while its mother is in the bathroom (and if there were a Baby Oscar, this little gurgling cutie would win it hands down). Lacy’s character confesses to Meg that as a boy, his Halloween costume was “stay-at-home dad.” And, my absolute favorite moment has Alice getting into a cab and dreamily saying, “I want to go home!”—a perfect moment of Wizard of Oz-like contentment—until the cabbie says “Lady, I have no idea where the [eff] home is.”

All in all, there’s just enough there for to me recommend it for fans of the genre. (The film it most resembles is He’s Just Not That Into You, although that one had Drew Barrymore and was therefore, by definition, better.) If only How to Be Single had the smarts to not just deliver twists on clichés, but avoid them altogether.