Thursday, March 10, 2016

"How To Be Single" Review: A Charming Cast Leads This Overly Busy Examination Of What It Means To Be Single


One of the best movies in recent years to explore being single and the lengths we go to in order to find that special someone was the 2009 romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer. It simultaneously showed how two people could be madly in love with one another yet not be in love with one another at the same time. It was heartbreaking, enlightening and honest in its approach to its subject matter and there really hasn't been another film in the rom-com genre like it since. While the new film How To Be Single tries admirably to explore the same subject matter from multiple perspectives it's just too busy for its own good. Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:   
Projector Type: 2D Digital           
Film Rating: R
Film Runtime:  1 hr 50 min
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Release Date: February 12, 2016

Biases:  
Loves: (500) Days of Summer
Likes: Dakota Johnson, Alison Brie, rom-com's that subvert genre cliches
Neutral: Rebel Wilson
Hates: Unfocused narratives
Why was the character Lucy needed?: Seriously, I want to know.

Meet Alice, she wants to know what life is like being single.

Alice (Dakota Johnson) has never really been single and upon graduating college she dumps her long time boyfriend in an attempt to live on her own for once after getting a new job in New York city at a law firm. There she meets the free spirited Robin (Rebel Wilson) who takes it upon herself to guide Alice in the ways of being single which includes lots of clubs, parties, late nights and an assortment of ways to get laid. Meanwhile Alice's sister Meg (Leslie Mann), a successful doctor and extremely proud independent woman finds herself slightly effected by the allure of motherhood in her later years and decides that she wants to be artificially inseminated which gets even more complicated after she meets a guy who just might be the one.

Then on the other side of the spectrum there is Lucy (Alison Brie) a woman trying everything from online dating to creating her own mathematical algorithms in order to find the perfect man, something that has and continues to elude her regardless of her best efforts. Despite the on and off flirting between her and the bar owner whose establishment resides just below Lucy's apartment, Lucy begins to wonder if she will ever find the right guy. All of these women are at different points in their lives and view being single in completely different ways which will ultimately reveal who they are and whether or not being single is what they truly want.

Meet Robin, she loves being single because she can party all the time.

If you have seen the trailers and other ads for the film you may be slightly confused by that synopsis and that is because while it was promoted as this girls night out party time flick it is much more a movie about growth and self discovery which depending on how you feel about that may influence whether or not you will actually like How To Be Single (HTBS from this point forward). This is very similar to what happened to the Kristen Wiig all female comedy Bridesmaids a few years back which was also a victim of mis-marketing (although it did still make a lot of money) but regardless it still seems like a cheap ploy to lure in a bunch of party girls with false promises of what looks like a film about clubbing when your target audience should be a tad more sophisticated..

That aside, HTBS is actually a somewhat complex and perhaps a bit too ambitious look at the role the modern woman plays in the relationship game. At the outset I compared it to the film (500) Days of Summer and there really isn't a more apt comparison than that as both films attempt to dissect the complications associated with dating and/or being single. While that other film was more interested in the odysesy of a single man looking for his perfect soulmate who absolutely loathed being single, HTBS takes the devil's advocate approach and decides to explore the entire "being single" institution from a generational perspective as opposed to the viewpoint of one individual. It's results however are not exactly what one would consider entirely successful due to it putting the focus on multiple characters instead of just one.

Meet Meg, she wants a baby but also wants to stay independent.

On the one hand you have the character of Alice whom for all intents and purposes is our main character. Her journey throughout the film is probably the most consistent as we see her many ups and downs but more so because she is given the lions share of screen time. While Dakota Johnson is an appealing enough leading lady as evidenced by her natural ability to steal the scene from just about all her co-stars here it doesn't change the fact that the only reason Alice stands out is because the script seems to favor her story over all the others. Oddly enough though despite having the majority of screen time there were some unusual decisions made in the editing room in regards to Alice.

Things such as her career in...well, we never really know since all we ever learn is that she goes to work at a law firm after graduating and that is it. Did she go to college to be a secretary? Is she there as an intern? Those are minor squabbles however when compared to the compartmentalization of a rather important relationship she begins with a guy (played by Damon Wayan's Jr.) who in a matter of minutes we go from seeing them kissing for the very first time to jumping ahead 3 months later when they break up. That is not an exaggeration, that happens exactly as stated and it not only devalues the lessons Alice learns from that relationship since we never see how it evolved but also begs the question of why even bother bringing it up aside from wanting to make sure the audience knows she was in a long term relationship.

Meet Lucy, she has nothing to do with either Alice, Robin or Meg.

On the other hand however we have the trio of Meg, Robin and Lucy whom are all vying for second place in the screen time department and in doing so all end in dead last. If there were one major flaw with HTBS it would have to be just how unfocused it is at times. There really is no grand scheme to how any of these characters interact with one another or any real reason given as to why they inhabit the same film other than to try to widen the demographic to include multiple age ranges into the mix. If the film had just stuck with Alice and left these other three characters more in the background or at the very least lessened their importance to just a group of friends then perhaps the film would have felt more cohesive and less scatterbrained.

The most perplexing part of any of this is the character Lucy who despite being lumped into all the marketing as though she is part of this group of friends is actually in no shape or form connected to anyone besides the bartender who seems to be the central hub for all the girls. Let me break this down for you a bit. Lucy goes down to the bar to meet her online dates and flirt around with the bartender. Robin takes Alice to the same bar one time...one time...where Alice hooks up with said bartender. Although Alice does meet up with the bartender again she never once goes back to the bar. Robin never goes back to the bar. Meg never goes to the bar once. Lucy is always at the bar. Alice is Meg's sister, Meg knows Robin through Alice...NOBODY in that trio knows who Lucy is. So why the hell is Lucy in this movie again and why should we care?

Meet the bartender, the only thing that any of the four girls have in common.

As Lucy's story plays out it becomes readily apparent that all of her scenes could have literally been spliced out and used to make a completely different movie about her character. Seriously, there isn't a single scene with all four girls in it, not even with one walking in the background while another is on screen. It is a baffling decision on multiple levels but especially confounding when you realize how much more interesting Alice's story is than Lucy's story. This is the core problem with HTBS, all four of its characters should have had their own film but instead they all got jammed into the same story making it feel overly busy and overstuffed. When you can edit out an entire character and it has no effect on the film on any level then perhaps its time to touch up that script a little.

Even with all those issues though HTBS remains an entertaining film. This of course is mostly in thanks to the extremely appealing cast who despite how underwritten or pointless their characters may be still bring a lot of charm and energy to the film. Johnson in particular shows that she is more than capable at carrying an entire film on her shoulders even when that particular film isn't up to the task of supporting her all that much in return. Although its message does get a little muddled near the end HTBS still manages to get what it is trying to say across by avoiding a number of rom-com cliches and allowing its characters to move on in their lives in mostly satisfying and unexpected ways. If you are in the market for a film that is easy to watch but can approach it with low expectations HTBS is just the fluff you are looking for.


FINAL THOUGHTS:

Being single is a strange time in ones life. You are free to do whatever you want with whomever you want whenever you want yet you still feel like something is missing. It is a time for us to explore the world and discover ourselves until the day comes along when it is time to shelve that part of our lives and re-discover ourselves all over again with the person we love. If there is one thing HTBS gets right it is reminding us to savor our days of being single until the day comes when being single just isn't an option anymore.

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