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Thursday, 18 February 2016

How To Be Single

(M) ★★½

Director: Christian Ditter.

Cast: Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Alison Brie, Leslie Mann, Nicholas Braun, Damon Wayans Jr., Jake Lacy, Anders Holm.

"You chug like a toddler!"
FOR a film to pass the Bechdel Test, it must feature just one thing – a conversation between two female characters about something other than a man.

The test started as a joke in a comic strip but has become a useful tool for analysing gender inequality in movies – roughly half of the features released by Hollywood fail the Bechdel Test.

Many films fail despite having plenty of good female characters because those women never have a conversation (like The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, for example), so the test certainly isn’t the be all and end all of analysing equality. ​How To Be Single would probably fail the test too, despite its four key players being female and targeting a female audience, because every conversation relates to men. It’s hard to say whether this showcases another shortcoming in the Bechdel Test, or whether it highlights something else that’s wrong with Hollywood. Or neither.

Either way, it’s an unfair test to apply to this particular film, seeing as how its raison d’etre (for better or worse) is exploring heterosexual singledom from the female perspective, and therefore every scene relates to one character or another assessing their very existence through the prism of either being a) with a man or b) without a man.

Central to this navel-gazing is Johnson’s Alice, who “consciously uncouples” from her boyfriend Josh (Braun) in an attempt to “find herself”, with the intention of getting back together again once she completes her mission.

Throwing herself into the solitary life, she gets to know partygirl Robyn (Wilson), moves in with her gynaecologist sister Meg (Mann), and shares a one-night stand with Tom (Holm), who is tentatively forming a friendship with Lucy (Brie).

Each has their own take on relationships. Meg is happy being alone, Lucy dedicates her life to finding her “soul mate”, and Tom and Robyn see being partner-free as an idyllic state that allows for endless conquests.

With its intersecting story threads, How To Be Single feels a bit like a 20-something version of the 30-something love exploration He’s Just Not That Into You (unsurprisingly, both films are based very loosely on books by Liz Tuccillo). But where He’s Just Not That Into You worked well with its ensemble cast, entertaining arcs, and multi-faceted look at relationships, How To Be Single feels stilted and episodic by comparison. So much focus on Alice’s story gives the other characters short shrift – you could cut all of Brie’s scenes and the movie would be punchier and more streamlined, through no fault of Brie’s, while Mann’s storyline is out-of-place and adds little.

It actually feels more like you’re binge-watching a TV show – some weird composite of Girls, New Girl, 2 Broke Girls, and probably some other show with “girl” in the title – on fast-forward, rather than sitting through a single feature-length movie.

The film works best when it’s picking apart rom-com clichés, which it does well, or when Wilson is in full flight. She makes the first half of the film her own with her brash humour, with Johnson a good foil in their straight woman/funny woman pairing.

But How To Be Single falls apart halfway through when its narrative suddenly leaps forward three months in a jarring move it never recovers from. Again, it’s only Wilson and Johnson that salvage it but even that is a struggle as their relationship is pushed to unnecessary limits as the movie collapses in a pile of awkward revelations and resolutions, with a baby thrown in for good measure.

At its best moments, the film is laugh-out-loud funny, with full points going to Wilson for saving the day. Its cast is likeable, particularly Johnson, but How To Be Single has nothing meaningful to say. Ultimately its enjoyable enough, but flimsily pieced together and largely disposable.

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