Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Since 1995, I, an almost forty-year-old woman, have been in back to back monogamous relationships. I’ve had exactly two boyfriends – the second one being the one I married. This isn’t meant to sound like a humblebrag, but rather a statement that I don’t know very much about how to be single. In this modern era of swiping right or left, the dating scene has transformed dramatically. Texting is now the norm. Social media is now in the mix. The quest to find someone special to spend your life with, however, remains the constant. Based on Liz Tuccillo’s novel of the same name, director Christian Ditter paints a pretty but hollow, hetero-normative and infuriating portrait of singledom with HOW TO BE SINGLE.
This is the story of four gals in New York City and their wacky dating misadventures. Well, sorta. Adapting screenwriters Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein and Dana Fox don’t bother to connect the dots quite well. Paralegal Alice (Dakota Johnson) has moved to the city hoping to find herself after going “on a break” from college sweetheart Josh (Nicholas Braun). Trouble is he moves on before she does. Whaaaaaaaaaaat?!?! She becomes fast besties with co-worker Robin (Rebel Wilson, repeating her usual shtick), who acts as a dominant, over-confident and sexualized Mr. Miyagi to Alice’s sheltered Daniel-san, teaching her pupil how to score free drinks, hook up, cure hangovers and tackle the “walk of shame” with poise and power. Alice’s sister Meg (Leslie Mann) has it rough too. She’s always put her OB/GYN career first, but now wants a behbeh (after spending two minutes with her patient’s trick baby). With no man in sight, she opts for in vitro. Of course that’s when she meets someone. And finally, there’s gorgeous sad-sack Lucy (Alison Brie), who creates formulas for dating apps, but can’t use those same analytics to find a man for herself. If only bar owner Tim (Anders Holm), who makes puppy dog eyes at her from the moment they meet, could help her out.
These characters’ triumphs and travails are so uninteresting, it’s excruciating. There are hardly any attempts at real humor, let alone authentic relationships. From Robin foisting herself upon Alice, to Meg’s relationship with pushy Ken (Jake Lacy), to Alice’s romances with paramours David and Josh, everything is forced, so we never see nor feel the impact of their relationship developments. Despite the reminders, it even becomes a challenge to remember their names. It’s clear the filmmakers were keen on creating buzzwords and cutesy linguistics (like “dicksand” and “drink numbers”) to add to our cultural zeitgeist. It works overtime to be relevant and resonant, but forgets to be genuine. The ya-ya sisterhood empowerment sequence set in the back of the cab feels incredibly phony, functioning as generic romcom device more than anything. Meg’s late-blooming motherhood quest made me stabby. Lucy could’ve been integrated better. Robin is full of conflicting ideologies, loving being alone but then hating being ditched by her bestie when she’s with a guy. Alice reading Cheryl Strayed and Sylvia Plath does not an independent woman make, but thanks, white privilege.
In the age of diversity, it’s shocking this film is straight and white. Not only are there no homosexuals, there’s hardly anyone who isn’t white. Until single dad David (Damon Wayans Jr.) shows up in the end of the second act, the film is thoroughly Caucasian. While it’s mind-boggling why the screenwriters are introducing more characters when they can’t figure out how to properly fuse the existing ones together, Wayans Jr. at least adds some heart. It’s also a relief when Jason Mantzoukas, playing a children’s bookshop owner, appears, as he breathes a little comedic life into these dull proceedings.
If I don’t know anything about how to be single, I sure as heck wouldn’t let this movie teach me. People may be quick to label this “cute” and “harmless.” Don’t let the veneer fool you – this is filled with harmful sentiment. The filmmakers may have captured the romantic lure of a booming metropolis, but there’s nothing romantic about their vision of sex in the city.
HOW TO BE SINGLE opens on February 12.