A welcome addition to the frothy, upscale wing of romantic comedy, “How to Be Single” delves into intelligent characters, amusing meet-cutes, a few touches of appropriate gravity and a fairly seamless sense of how to entertain its target audience. It covers all those bases with a mix of interconnected subplots rolling together eight or nine diverse declarations of the heart.
It’s a large framework, but a good one. The film moves along like a romantic game of musical chairs, and when a few pull aside, making players drop to their buttocks with a hard bump, those bruises heal with the robust resilience of youth. The script by Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein and Dana Fox moves from adoration to erotic flings, from affection to awkward relationships that lose that lovin’ feeling. It admits that love is difficult, complicated, frustrating and sometimes painful, but even bad crushes don’t leave your heart crushed forever.
I counted 10 “Aww!”s and zero tears.
The story threads are carried by a roster of agreeable players reprising their greatest hits. Dakota Johnson, her eyes as quizzical as they were in “Fifty Shades of Grey,” perfectly captures her role as Alice, a recent grad exploring new opportunities in Manhattan. In a New York minute, she hooks up with Robin (Rebel Wilson playing Rebel Wilson), a party girl whose incessant flings are lost in comic hangover amnesia.
Alice frequently couch surfs with her older sister Meg (Judd Apatow’s muse, Leslie Mann), a busy obstetrician/gynecologist who has delivered 3,000 babies but insists that she never ever intends to mother one of her own or have the sort of ongoing relationship that generally triggers pregnancy. Or any kind of social life at all, because she is very, very, very busy. Alison Brie (“Community,” “Mad Men”) is Lucy, another new arrival scoping out roomfuls of men and trying to muster the courage to say “Hey, there.” And maybe “Wanna get married?”
All four stumble into the mysterious, sometimes inexplicable experience of pick-ups, shack-ups and bust-ups. One of the film’s difficult lessons about singleness is that, since connections may be transitory, it’s hard to predict how long they will continue. On the other hand, when relationships work, they can make the universe seem a bit more wondrous.
The film is not utterly romantic, but it’s not anti-romantic, either, reminding us that it’s important to know yourself before trying to find someone else.
With a lot of its scenes taking place in ever-emotional Christmastime, sections of the movie have the feel of a classic holiday film. You can practically smell the balsam pines at the market when youthful Jake Lacy tries to persuade Mann that they should share a tree. The magic of the season hits a bigger display when Damon Wayans Jr. shows Johnson the best imaginable skyscraper view of the Rockefeller Center tree. The seasonal charm doesn’t turn everyone in the cast into a soul mate. Maybe that’s why the St. Patrick’s Day section was thrown in, to give the cast a chance for some barroom self-medicating.
Running just short of two hours, “How to Be Single” zips along at a showy pace, like binge-watching a promising comedy-drama series. But while judicious editing would streamline its vignettes, the film’s vivid and vulnerable characters are pretty good company. Like the tone, neither squeaky clean nor surprisingly raunchy (for all its R-rated moments), the overall movie has a good balance.