“How To Be Single” doesn’t want to be the typical rom-com. Rather than an overbearing presence of mushy feelings or raunchy sex scenes, we get portrayals of typical relationship struggles faced by ordinary people.
It’s amazing that the film manages to adequately develop both the narrative and the characters since it follows a whopping ten different individuals, centered on twenty-something paralegal Alice (Dakota Johnson, “Fifty Shades of Grey”). After she and her “soulmate,” Josh (Nicholas Braun, “Freaks of Nature”), decide it’s over, Alice meets Robin (Rebel Wilson, “Pitch Perfect 2”). She’s the typical Rebel Wilson character, a hilariously loud-mouthed party animal with a strong sense of self-awareness. Accompanying Alice’s narrative are the stories of her workaholic sister, Meg (Leslie Mann, “Vacation”) and bartender, Tom (Anders Holm, “Workaholics”).
Holm commendably provides a natural depth to the average 20-year-old man. He doesn’t overact, but simply exists as his character. At first, with his somewhat cynical tone and slight cockiness, Tom exudes fuccboi, but slowly, the layers strip away. When he shares intimate moments with Alice, he reveals a gentler, more honest side. Tom isn’t afraid to admit that all guys reiterate the same manipulative lines just to get girls into bed, yet he’s well aware of what it’s like to truly love someone.
Meg serves as a representative for the subset of women who avoid love to focus on their careers. However, the root of her hesitancy toward love is her desire to maintain completely control of everything. Mann convincingly portrays an overwhelmed but highly capable woman until she gets pregnant. Her “pregnant woman” outbursts are too sporadic and too violent, making her seem more on the verge of mental insanity than someone dealing with fluctuating hormones; one second she’s throwing a chair and the next she’s calmly whispering. With regards to her lover Ken (Jake Lacy, “Carol”), who is the receptionist from Alice’s law firm, Lacy either exhibits too much emotion or none at all. He also makes Ken seem too clueless about blatantly obvious things, but boys are stupid, so that’s more forgivable than his drastic emotional shifts.
Overall, “How to be Single” is profoundly feminist. Even its feel-good soundtrack is dominated by female artists. Anthems consist of Taylor Swift’s “Welcome to New York” introducing the setting and Hailee Steinfeld’s “Love Myself” playing with the end credits. These anthems keep the empowerment flowing even after the film’s end. It’s one of my favorite end credit sequences ever — it uses symbols rather than pictures to represent the characters, demonstrating that people are defined by more than physical qualities.
The best part of the film is undeniably Rebel Wilson; it couldn’t have drawn the laughs without her. Continuing Fat Amy’s humor in “Pitch Perfect,” Wilson’s character constantly spews puns, but this time they’re about dicks, not a cappella. Robin encourages Alice to play (in her own words) sexual monopoly, where you pass go and collect 200 dicks. She makes the point that Alice gets “trapped in dicksand,” the act of conforming to a man’s desires. Playing off a typical rom-com trope, the funniest instance not attributed to Wilson is when Alice walks out of a hotel, just after having her epiphany and proudly declares to the cab driver that she is going home. Completely ruining the moment, the cab driver snipes back with, “I don’t know where the fuck you live!”
Thoroughly entertaining and impressively empowering, “How to be Single” captures what it’s like trying to live and love in the real world. Through its strong sense of identity, the film reminds us that best parts of life are the moments when we can completely stand on our own two feet, defined by no one other than ourselves.