,Even Dakota Johnson and Rebel Wilson can't save this badly dated dreck
How to Be Single “is not about relationships”, the film tells us in its gigglishly conspiratorial opening voiceover, “but the times in between – when maybe, just maybe, real life is happening.”
Maybe, just maybe, if Christian Ditter’s romantic comedy didn’t begin in such a trough of self-delusion, it might have been easier to take. In fact the filmis about nothing but relationships: its lead characters, four unattached New Yorkers, are preoccupied by them to the point of swivel-eyed obsession, and barely talk, think about or define themselves in terms of anything else for the film’s near-two-hour running time.
As such, nothing that even dimly approximates real life is anywhere to be seen, unless your idea of real life is a half-heartedSex and the City remake set in an enormous, open-air branch of Anthropologie.
The Carrie Bradshaw proxy is Alice (Dakota Johnson), who comes to Manhattan after a life-diverting break-up and moves in with her older sister Meg (Leslie Mann), a career-focused obstetrician who begins the film by loudly trumpeting her own lack of interest in having a baby herself. See if you can guess where she’s rushed to, and why, at the end.
Alice finds work as a legal secretary and befriends her raucous colleague Robin (Rebel Wilson), the Samantha of the gang and single-note comic relief, who parties hard every night and wakes up either on or behind a different sofa every morning. Then there’s Lucy (Alison Brie), whose story never quite connects up with the others.
She spends her days perusing dating websites in the bar below her flat (free wi-fi), volunteers at a bookshop once, and that’s about it. If she has a job, or interests, or non-man-related goals, or mental life of any description, I must have missed them.
Part of the challenge of making a comedy about How We Live Now is ensuring it isn’t just How The Writers Lived Ten Years Ago, but with added emojis: it has to feel authentically current for the humour to bite. How to Be Single’s script finds space for jokes about the sitcom Friends, which came off air 12 years ago, but doesn’t make a single mention of casual "hook-up" apps like Tinder, which in the last five years have changed the singles scene in cities like New York beyond recognition. The film is based on a novel by the former Sex and the City writer Liz Tuccillo from 2008, which in dating terms might as well be the Upper Palaeolithic.
So what you get is largely the same old public humiliations, meltdowns and declarations of love to the same old adorable good guys (Jake Lacy), rascally bad boys (Anders Holm) and feeble commitment-phobes (Nicholas Braun) that you’ve seen a thousand times before in bad films exactly like this one.
The only thing that feels remotely fresh is the decor in the characters’ apartments, and I did find myself grudgingly scribbling some interior design ideas in my notebook.
The only other thing How to Be Single has going for it is its cast, and while it gives them almost nothing to work with, their charm still occasionally glimmers through. Wilson may have been funnier in her 48 seconds on stage at the Baftas than she’s allowed to be here in 110 minutes, but she pounds home a few one-liners through sheer, steam-hammer determination.
And Johnson continues to be one of the most watchable new actresses in movies – the film’s at its most engaging when she’s just wandering around the city, letting thoughts flicker across that enigmatic, Jeanne Moreau-like, daydreamer’s face. Johnson holds her own against Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes in the superb A Bigger Splash, but a good film can make anyone look like hot stuff. It takes true star quality to sparkle in dreck.