Romantic comedies, in common with just about every genre of movie in existence, loves its tropes.
As sure as a spectacularly reunion will follow a hackneyed misunderstanding, rom-coms, as they’re affectionately known (or not so affectionately depending on your point of view) regularly give us the lovelorn soul who unexpectedly meets the person of their dreams, who they may or may not recognise as such, with whom they spar/parry/flirt/have sex with until such time as complications ensue, obstacles only resolved by a rush to the airport/gatecrashing a wedding/a heart-to-heart conversation on pouring rain.
Let’s face it they persist because we love seeing them; even so it’s welcome occurrence when a movie like How To Be Single comes along which dares to, if not challenge the conventions of the genre, at least tweak and twist them a little.
How To Be Single, based on the book by Liz Tuccilo, and directed by Christian Ditter, is not, it must be said, a revolutionary change to everything we have ever known about rom-coms, but there is enough about it that is different to make it a pleasing, if not necessarily classic, entry in the annals of romantic movie-making.
But as far as it goes, it’s an interesting and often quite funny addition to the canon, mainly thanks to Rebel Wilson as out there, commitment-phobe party girl Robin who lands a neverending cavalcade of raunchy, unedited oneliners, daring to assert that maybe a happily ever after with the man of your dreams isn’t the be-all and end-all to a woman’s life.
Of course that doesn’t mean to say that there isn’t romance aplenty afoot but the overriding is quite clearly that while falling in love is fine and dandy and to be welcomed with open arms when it occurs, that its pursuit shouldn’t define anyone’s life and that the aim should be aim to be satisfied with who you as a single person before you throw another person into the mix.
It’s a theme clearly enunciated during the voiceover narration that begins and the film courtesy of protagonist Alice (Dakota Johnson) who is in a relationship with Josh (Nicholas Braun) before deciding she needs some time to find herself.
When events don’t play out quite as expected, Alice finds herself negotiating the often unpredictable world of singledom, with advice of dubious merit supplied by Robin who firmly believes you should never go home after work and that every night must be spent in an alcoholic daze in the intimate company of a man whose name and appearance you will not recall in the foggy light of morning.
Alice isn’t entirely convinced by Robin’s unorthodox advice but sets out to find out who she is without a man by her side; it’s an experiment that keeps getting interrupted by occasional sex with bar owner Tom (Anders Holm), a serial player who is dedicated to sleeping with women and nothing more until sassy Lucy (Alison Brie) crosses his path, the reemergence of a wavering Josh, and a stop-start relationship with widowed architect David (Damon Wayans, Jr.).
Despite her best intentions, she keeps finding herself enveloped in what Robin amusingly called “Dicksand”, the male equivalent of quicksand, the idea being that people like Alice find themselves, no matter their resolve being defined and constrained by their boyfriends.
It’s a concept that Alice struggles with and it’s only towards the end that she realises she’s being making a hash of the whole epic quest for happy singledom.
Meanwhile her sister Meg (Leslie Mann), who makes her own profound life changes, rather quickly and a tad unconvincingly, more due to narrative need than any sort of character integrity, and Lucy, who has developed a spreadsheet she is convinced will lead her to the perfect man, end up discovering that sometimes life can surprise you, even when you have committed to a particular life course.
While the script by Lenny Beller and Dana Fox keeps things moving along at a crisp if slightly overlong pace, mostly giving each character their moments to shine, it does often lose sight of what it is we’re meant to take away from the proceedings.
The earnest lessons about the benefits of the single life that usher in and farewell How To Be Single aside, the film often leaves you wondering where Alice would be happiest, as if its finding it hard to commit itself.
Should she go back to Josh, pursue emotional baggage-laden David, or see if she crack open Tom’s wavering resolve to commitment-free everything, or should she wholeheartedly embrace Robin’s adherence to a single life of endless hedonism? Or simply get comfortable in her own skin and read, paint, cook and hike the Grand Canyon secure in her own company?
While we know what we’re supposed to think thanks to the voiceovers, the storyline inbetween seems unable to decide which way she should jump.
Even so, there enough realism ideas-wise at least, well as much rom-coms ever allow (which let’s be fair isn’t much; the apartments alone are way out of anyone’s budget) to make How To Be Single accessible and and relatable for anyone who’s ever been single, in a relationship and wondered in which state they would be better off?
It’s a hardly an earnest existential polemic but then it’s clearly not intended to be; in its own slightly messy though unarguably hilarious and often heartfelt way, it simply seeks to ask whether being in a relationship is necessarily the end goal for everyone and whether, rom-com conventions somewhat, slightly, kinda be damned, whether being single is such a bad thing after all.