Deciding she wants some space from her college boyfriend, Alice (Johnson) heads to New York for a new career and a shot at big city romance. Provided with a bed by increasingly broody gynecologist sister Meg (Mann), Alice befriends wild co-worker Robin (Wilson) and hits the single scene, with their favourite spot hosting charming barman Tom (Holm) and Lucy (Brie), a singleton out to find the perfect man.
How To Be Single positions itself as a new breed of romcom. We’re told our characters are "living longer, marrying later, refusing to leave the party until we’re really done". There’s some utterly filthy dialogue from Wilson’s party animal and a climax that feels rather progressive for the genre. There are also moments in the film that are eye-rollingly conventional. As Johnson’s newly-unattached lead Alice takes a taxi into Manhattan, the camera pans up to the Big Apple skyline and Taylor Swift’s Welcome To New York plays. (They may have well have plastered ‘THIS FILM IS CONTEMPORARY’ on screen). There’s a character in her mid-30s who’s desperate for a baby, one who’s so keen to marry she scares off suitors and another whose relentless partying hides inner sadness. You’ve seen a lot of this before.
Even when director Ditter shows some visual flair you rarely recognise in the romantic comedy genre – there’s some fun to be had with floating onscreen visuals of unsecured wi-fi networks and text messages – you’ve got a fairly clear handle on things are headed. Even when there’s an inevitable third-act bump in the road of our heroine’s journey (and a poorly-executed narrative swerve it is too…), there’s little doubt that we’re set for a generally positive resolution.
What makes this familiar, messily-constructed movie worth your while is its cast. Mann’s character is far more sympathetic than the shrewish roles she’s often afforded by husband Judd Apatow while Brie is underused but a warm, unpredictable presence, especially in her scenes with The League’s Mantzoukas. Lacy, last seen in Carol, has a bright future as a romantic lead and while Johnson is a far poorer comedian than the hilarious Wilson, she’s a captivating lead. While an all-star cast can’t polish a turd like Valentine’s Day/New Year’s Eve/repeat to fade…, here the quality of the cast elevates the enjoyable yet hardly ground-breaking screenplay.
It touches on hollow hook-ups, the confusion of early- to mid-20s and societal expectations for women in their 30s, yet How To Be Single is hardly a must-see romantic guide. Then again, it’s got smooth, lively direction, a breezy pace, a cracking cast and a lot of laughs. It’s not a long-term love connection but a brief fling will be fun.