How to Be Single movie review: more like how not to be single

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How to Be Single red light

Hollywood does not know how to make a movie about women that isn’t about the pursuit of romance. Even when women say they don’t want romance, they’re lying.
I’m “biast” (pro): hungry for movies about women

I’m “biast” (con): not generally a fan of romantic comedies

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Do you want to know how to be single? Do you need to know how to be single? I figure everyone in the world knows how to be single, because that’s how we all start out, but if you need some tips, these are the ones How to Be Single has for you:

= Be embarrassed to be unmarried. Be miserable constantly.

= Have no hobbies or friends that aren’t devoted to getting you paired off.

= Feel as if you must justify your singleness to complete strangers.

= If you are a woman, complain about how hard it is to find a man.

= If you are a man, cultivate a harem of female fuck buddies by lying to women to make them believe they are special to you.

= If you are anything other than a well-off able-bodied cisgendered heterosexual on the road to eventual monogamy, you clearly don’t need any advice on how to be single, because no one who deviates even the teensiest bit from those narrow conventions exists here. In a movie that takes place in New York City. Ha.

That’s pretty much it. This is one of those rom-coms that thinks it’s funny and charming yet also grounded and realistic about romance because it depicts women as mostly incompetent desperate idiots and men as mostly unemotional rutting monsters. That’s just how it is, folks, How to Be Single is entirely certain, and anyone who says otherwise is clearly delusional. Any lonely single person who accepted even a few crumbs of this depressing movie as authentic would have to commit suicide or give up all hope of ever finding true love with a decent human being.

Our nominal heroine here is Alice (Dakota Johnson: Black Mass, Fifty Shades of Grey), who pouts that she doesn’t know “how to reset my router” without a man. (RTFM, girlfriend. Google it. Jesus.) She broke up with her college boyfriend, Josh (Nicholas Braun: Jem and the Holograms, Poltergeist), because she wanted to figure out who she was on her own, which is not a bad idea, but she is a weak-willed dishcloth who spends the entire movie slogging her way to the moment of personal realization she was already at when the movie opened. I sprained something craning my neck around to try to take it all in. Single ends on what is supposed to be a moment of personal triumph for Alice because she is finally doing the thing she should have been doing ten minutes after the opening credits because that’s what she said she was going to do.

It’s almost like Hollywood does not know how to make a movie about women that isn’t about the pursuit of romance. Even when women, such as Alice, say they don’t want romance, they’re lying. All women want romance!

Alice gets led astray by Robin, who is Rebel Wilson (Pitch Perfect 2, Pain and Gain) playing Rebel Wilson again: she’s not a person, she’s a cartoon. A buffoonish cartoon of supposedly hip modern womanhood who thinks it’s cool to use men as an ATM for drinks at a bar, and who thinks it’s funny to shame her friends for having body hair. The movie thinks Robin is way cool, someone Alice should emulate. Thanks, movie, for reinforcing the patriarchy! Alice also has a sister, Meg (Leslie Mann: Vacation, The Other Woman), a workaholic doctor who loves her career and is fine with never having had a family until suddenly Awwwwwwwwwww, babies be so cute!!!!! Meg is an obstetrician. You think she might have noticed the cuteness of babies before. But she’s just like every woman: she was lying to herself when she denied she wanted a baby. All women want babies!

And then there’s Lucy (Alison Brie: Get Hard, The Lego Movie) — who has no connection to Alice except that she’s emphatically not a fuck buddy of Tom (Anders Holm: The Intern, Top Five), whom Alice has become a fuck buddy of… which is sort of emblematic of the mishmash of a mess the script here is. (This is allegedly based on a novel by Liz Tuccillo, but it appears to bear no resemblance to it whatsoever beyond the title.) Lucy sorts men on dating sites using an algorithm of her own design, which isn’t weird or anything, and doesn’t reduce romance to an equation. Lucy is extremely thin but wears Spanx to read picture books to children, because women are crazy amirite, and suffers a meltdown in front of the kids over a happily-ever-after book about a princess (who presumably isn’t wearing Spanx), because even though Lucy wears Spanx she is still single.

Lucy’s childish tantrum is meant to be kooky-adorable, and attractive to adult men, and this is where any thinking person would be within their rights to storm out of the cinema and burn it down.

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Sun, Feb 14, 2016 4:36pm

Men get to blow stuff up. Women get to have Relationships.

Very occasionally both of these things are allowed into a single film, and then everyone says how daring and innovative it is.

Sun, Feb 14, 2016 7:05pm

The worst thing about traditional romantic love is that it’s supposed to be the end of the story—if you’re a girl. The music swells, the curtain drops as you fall into his arms, and then you’re done. You’re get to drift off into a life of quiet bliss and baby making. Isn’t that what every girl really wants?

It is not, nor should it be. There are many different routes to a life of love and adventure and personally, I don’t intend to travel down any one of them in the sidecar. So we need to start telling stories about singleness—and coupled independence—that are about more than manicures and frantic day-drinking. We need to start remembering all of the women down the centuries who chose to remain unpartnered so that they could make art and change history without a man hanging around expecting dinner and a smile. We need to start remembering that the modern equivalents of these women are all around us, and little girls need not be terrified of becoming them.

Mon, Feb 15, 2016 5:26am

They’re still making movies like this? Thought this kind of woman-hating crap died with Kate Hudson’s film
career. :p

Tue, Feb 16, 2016 7:15pm

Although not smart emotionally or socially, the young women in these films are intelligent, thin, beautiful, well off (I didn’t notice in the review if she lives with four other women in a NYC shoebox) and usually have decent jobs. Clearly, they have a lot to be unhappy about, especially without being linked to a male of the species.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Beowulf
Wed, Feb 17, 2016 11:01pm

Ha! The Dakota Johnson character has a job (paralegal) that would not pay her enough to live on her own in the funky studio she has — on her own — on the Lower East Side, *and* that job would also not give her any free time to be partying. Her whole life would be working. Now, maybe if they had made a movie about lonely overworking people boinking in the office copier room at 10pm on a Friday night because they were still working, that might be something…

At least Rebel Wilson is not thin. But her character is definitely well-off.