How to Be Single – Review (** 1/2)

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If certainly a cut above the average as far as romantic comedies cynically plonked on a ripe Valentine’s release are concerned, How to Be Single falls slightly short of being genuinely good because, as subversive as it flirts with being, it’s ultimately too beholden to the syrupy truisms that so often define the genre.

Alice (Dakota Johnson) goes on a break from her long-term boyfriend and moves to New York with the hope of “finding” herself.  She makes fast friends with her rowdy new co-worker Robin (Rebel Wilson), as the two party hard and Alice truly learns, you guessed it, how to be single. Other intersecting stories include Tom (Anders Holm), a virulent bachelor who takes a shine to Lucy (Alison Brie), who is herself on the hunt for the perfect guy, and there’s also Alice’s sister Meg (Leslie Mann), who wrestles with a ticking biological clock.

Though on the surface this looks like a standard fare, slickly-produced, frothy rom-com, there are two major plusses going for it; an R-rating, which gives Wilson in particular free license to let loose, and an unexpected feminist tone which emphasises womanly freedom without any slut-shaming or overt stereotyping in sight. That this isn’t at the expense of the male characters makes it all the more commendable.

And indeed, How to Be Single is never bad or boring, but it does come with a few provisos; several characters, especially those played by Brie and Mann, are fairly irritating to begin with, even if they do grow and change like so few characters from the genre truly do. Also, the pic isn’t quite so satisfying when it strains for seriousness, save perhaps for one subplot involving a single father (played by Damon Wayans, Jr.) which has an unexpectedly moving payoff.

It’s still template-driven fare at the end of the day, but it does generate a solid string of laughs and is surprisingly well-shot and directed given its fairly undemanding place in the cinematic food chain. The cast are likeable, though if the pic were trimmed down to be a little more concise and didn’t cling to formula quite so adamantly, it’d probably be the best film of its kind in quite some time. The charm and the strong message about enjoying yourself before you let others do certainly hit their targets.

** 1/2

How to Be Single is in cinemas now

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