‘How to Be Single’ makes a poor date movie for Valentine’s Day

Charles Liu

It’s a bad idea to go see a movie that preaches the virtues of single life on Valentine’s Day, but it’s also a bad idea to see “How to Be Single” because it sucks. 

Aside from its rather profound themes, “How to Be Single” isn’t much different from the average romantic comedy. The setting is New York City. The main characters are girls who struggle with their love lives. They contend with the highs and lows of their various relationships. Taken alone, these elements would comprise a passable, if ultimately forgettable, flick.

But “How to Be Single” never combines its disparate elements to form a well-woven story, juggling a large roster of characters and plot threads and failing to execute each of them properly.

The main character is Alice (Dakota Johnson), a twenty-something paralegal who has broken up with her boyfriend (Nicholas Braun) to spend time improving herself, only to realize she’ d rather be with him than be alone. Alice is forced to remain single when her ex gets engaged to another girl, but with the help of her best friend, party-loving Robin (Rebel Wilson), Alice embarks on a journey of self-discovery. 

At the same time, the movie follows the life of Alice’s sister Meg (Leslie Mann), a successful doctor who wants a baby but has never married. Meg is impregnated by a sperm donor and enters a relationship with a younger, hunky guy, Ken (Jake Lacy). But Ken doesn’t know she’s pregnant, and Meg struggles with her instincts to push him away.

Allison Brie also appears in the movie as the clingy Lucy, who searches for love online while the local bartender, Tom (Anders Holm), falls for her. 

Johnson is likable as Alice, Wilson plays the same rowdy character she always does and Mann still finds herself in the role of the neurotic member of the group. Brie gets to be crazy and nothing more.

Alice’s story suitably receives the most attention, but it often wanders without purpose and has multiple climaxes that could have served as endings in their own right. Meg’s thread is uneventful, focusing squarely on repetitive, wishy-washy arguments between her and Ken. Lucy features prominently during the first third of the film, then disappears for most of the latter parts, making one wonder why she was in the story to begin with.

One of Alice’s boyfriends, played by Damon Wayans Jr., also has no reason to be in the movie. Wayans Jr. appears for less than ten minutes onscreen, but his character becomes thematically important for no reason in the film’s closing minutes. 

“How to Be Single” suffers from peculiar tonal inconsistencies, going through multiple emotional highs and lows within minutes. There’s a sense of artificiality to the proceedings, as it becomes predictable when things will go wrong and when they’ll go right. It gets old fast. 

A number of laughs are to be had, but most of the jokes won’t stick. The only memorable gag is Alice’s inability to unzip a skirt without thrashing around her apartment. The writing has moments of cleverness, so the movie does manage to be enjoyable at times.

“How to Be Single” only stands apart from other romantic comedies in its final moments, in which Alice concludes she should be grateful she’s single. She realizes it’s a fleeting period in one’s life that should be used for self-discovery and personal growth — a time without burden —  not a time to spend looking for “the One.” The message is mature, but a better movie would have delivered it more gracefully than through a voice-over. 

How to Be Single
Running Time: 110 minutes
Rating: R
Score: 2/5 stars