Sunday, 28 February 2016

Movie Review: How To Be Single (2016)



Maybe it’s an age thing, but being single doesn’t really bother me all that much… about 99 times out of 100. That’s probably because I’m at that point of transitioning into full-on adulthood where I have a lot of other shit to worry about day-by-day. Of course, on that one day out of 100, it does end up getting me ever so slightly. And by “slightly”, I mean I start looking like I should be listening to Simple Plan all friggin’ day. Being the social hermit that I am, talking with people isn’t necessarily something I am equipped to deal with these days. With this in mind, and everything I’ve said previously about what I’ve learnt from films, there’s that added layer of irritating that comes with most rom-coms. It’s kind of like hanging out with people who go on about how great their relationship is going and how much work it is to maintain; on both sides, it only serves to annoy. Probably explains why these are usually considered date movies in the first place; watching them while single isn’t exactly the best idea in the world. Regardless, here I am fulfilling my self-imposed obligation to see a film that I’m not exactly frothing at the mouth to go see. Let’s discover why. This is How To Be Single.

The plot: Recently single Alice (Dakota Johnson) moves in with her sister Meg (Leslie Mann) in New York City to further her career and learn what it means to be ‘single’. She connects with her boisterous co-worker Robin (Rebel Wilson), who enjoys the partying single life and show her the ropes. Robin introduces Alice to local bartender Tom (Anders Holm), who happily lives the bachelor life, but may not for much longer as he starts to have feelings for dating hopeful Lucy (Alison Brie).

Dakota Johnson, in the space of a year, went from dating a possessive abuser in Fifty Shades Of Grey to being the wife of Boston’s most notorious gangster in Black Mass to playing the lead in a film called ‘How To Be Single’. Don’t really need to add anything to that joke; it pays itself off. Okay, joking aside, Johnson is perfectly fine in this movie. Nothing all that spectacular but she fills her confusion-laced shoes well enough. Brie, given how well Sleeping With Other People turned out, was really the only one of the main cast that I actively wanted to see and she is actually pretty good here. She manages to sell the insane busy-work she puts into dating sites without it coming across as too sad; desperate, most definitely, but not all that sad. Leslie Mann, whom I still haven’t forgiven for the travesty of The Other Woman, is still someone who deserves decent films and she does her self-delusion some service here. And then there’s Rebel Wilson, whom is a complete enigma in terms of why exactly she’s here. She’s playing the epitome of single woman, and I’m not entirely sure what her overall point to the film is, aside from pushing that promiscuity note because we have it in our heads that fat people having sex is funny… apparently. Anders Holm, despite being given a pretty bizarre cut-out of a character, does well at making Tom pretty damn likeable. Jake Lacy is alright as Ken, Damon Wayans Jr. is much the same and Jason Mantzoukas… has officially won me over; we need more of this guy. Yes, even more than we already do.

This film is set in Norah Ephron’s vision of New York, where it is a remarkably charming place that, despite how freaking huge it is, is somehow small enough for the coincidental encounters needed for rom-coms to happen. And speaking of things that are needed for rom-coms to happen, I have only just caught onto something. For some reason, in a lot of these movies, characters constantly want to teach other characters the finer points of life. Like, in every conversation they have. I know that a lot of these films run on the pretence that they are teaching their audience niche truths about romance and other such things, but making it a little less lecture-y would be nice. As for the lessons in question that this film wants to impart, it seems to be taking the film’s name in as many different connotations as possible. It deals with how to deal with the fact that you are single, how some people’s behaviour ensures that they will stay single, and then how people get sick of it and want to find someone. It hits some decent points, like how being single isn’t a completely miserable experience as is usually pushed by pretty much every other rom-com out there. However, it delves into questionable territory at times, like with how Tom is supposed to be the everyman… in that he is a microcosm of every man. Yeah, the unrepentant womanizer is supposed to represent what every man does, just that he’s open about it. At the risk of Clem Bastow coming after me, screw this nonsense. If they made some similar statement about Wilson being a microcosm of every single woman, then I might have bought it; but no, it’s just him.

These are some horrible main characters we have here. It’s like a Pick-N-Mix: You can choose from a variety of different flavours of unlikeable. Let’s start with Alice, since her crowning moment is what kicks the film off to begin with. In what conceivable reality would anyone, regardless of gender, want to temporarily leave the person they’re with because “they don’t know what being single is like”? The supposed on-again-off-again relationship she has with Josh only serves to highlight how stupid that decision was. But hey, naivety needed for the sake of plot; I can kind of forgive that in the grand scheme of things. Less so with Meg, who admittedly gets some points for the aforementioned self-delusion that she is happy with a kid but then how she breaks the news to Ken is seriously questionable. Seriously, that relationship should have stopped dead right then and there, and yet because of outside influence, they stay together without any real resolution for how she decided to just keep this very important news from him. Highlighting character fault doesn’t really work when said fault isn’t resolved in any real way.

And speaking of matters that aren’t properly resolved, there’s also the relationship between Lucy and Tom. Ignoring how hackneyed it is that they highlight the clichĂ© of Tom finding a woman who changes his world view, and then have it actually happen, is difficult but manageable. Ignoring the big flaming fuck you he gets from both Lucy and her fiancĂ©e, on the other hand? Hell no. I may not like how pigeon-holed his character is written, but I don’t see how means he deserves to be screwed over and to be given the “Stay the fuck away from her” spiel and treated like garbage. This is especially bad considering he is, once again, meant to represent a more honest and self-aware version of every man. Lucy’s sub-plot is decent enough and her match-up is cute and all, but that moment made me instantly just wish death on both of them. And then there’s Rebel bloody Wilson. Again. She sticks out like a sore thumb and it’s only right at the arse-end of the film that we really learn anything about her, all of which makes her out to be an unapologetic Mary Sue. I bring all of this character stuff up because it all severely hinders the film’s comedy value in the long run. A fair chunk of the film is just awkward to sit through, but it does get some definite laughs; the use of music during the drink number gag was outstanding. Fitting, considering director Christian Ditter also did Love, Rosie, another film with a scene containing amazing music usage. However, whenever the film feels like it’s getting in its stride, someone does something woeful and all of a sudden there’s nothing but contempt to be felt for a good few minutes of screen time. And then it happens again a couple of scenes later.

All in all, while it definitely has some good chuckles to it, the haphazard pacing and just plain loathsome characterization really hinders how much enjoyment can really rung out of this. The acting is a lot better than I was expecting, considering the track record of the main cast, and sometimes the music can reach that level of hilariously apt that I love to see in films, but overall it just leaves me extremely cold at the end of the day. I can see some merit in checking out for a supposed date night, but otherwise I’d advise saving your money for something else. It’s better than 13 Hours, as this didn’t out-and-out bore me at any point. It got questionable, but not boring. However, since the character actions really do end up dragging the film down as a whole, it falls short of Sisters.

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