Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 16, 2016)
Though Valentine’s Day weekend might seem like the ideal time for movies that work for couples, 2015 showed the strength of the single female audience. 50 Shades of Grey - a movie that appealed to 1.2 percent of the heterosexual male audience – dominated multiplexes that weekend and demonstrated that sisters could do it for themselves.
With that as backdrop, 2016’s similarly “girls night out”-centered How to Be Single had to be a big hit, right? After all, it encountered no competition from other female-oriented flicks.
Reality worked differently, and Single would up in a mediocre third place. The superhero flick Deadpool owned Valentine’s Day weekend, so even though it seemed to offer little appeal to the ladies out there, it still left little room for anything else.
So Single didn’t flop, but with a total under $50 million, it fell well short of the $166 million earned by Grey a year earlier. Will this impact studios’ willingness to court single females in the future? Probably not, but this instance makes me feel Grey was an unusual case and not something that shows a potential trend.
Set in New York City, Single introduces us to four women: Alice (Dakota Johnson), Robin (Rebel Wilson), Meg (Leslie Mann) and Lucy (Alison Brie), all of whom find themselves single in the big city. The story mainly focuses on Alice, however, as the recent college grad arrives in NYC fresh off the end of a long-term relationship.
Because she spent her entire college experience with one boyfriend, Alice lacks much dating experience, and the other three women all influence her approach to the singles scene. We follow their romantic ups and downs.
When I watch a movie like Single, I always feel I need to add an asterisk. After all, as a middle-aged male, no one made Single for me. Is it fair for me to judge a film when I fall so far outside of its target audience?
Yeah, I think so, though obviously I approach the film from a different perspective. Still, I believe a good movie is a good movie is a good movie, so even if I’m not part of the intended group, I should still be able to appreciate a well-made effort.
I’ll say this about Single: it’s better than I expected – and superior to the boring Fifty Shades. At its peak, Single offers some saucy energy and comedy.
Unfortunately, the film squanders its potential too quickly. The first act fares pretty well, mainly due to the cast. In particular, Johnson displays an easy charm that carries the movie through some of its tedious parts. She seems so likable and natural that she keeps us engaged.
Wilson doesn’t break a sweat as the loose-cannon Robin, as we’ve seen the actor play similar bawdy roles in the past. However, she adds zest to the proceedings and creates enough humor to justify her presence – even if the character shows no connection to reality and exists as nothing more than an excuse for Wilson to do her comedic thing.
Unlike the Pitch Perfect films, Single never comments on Wilson’s/Robin’s weight. While it seems like a stretch that someone her size would wow the men as easily as Robin does, I still find it oddly satisfying that Single doesn’t explore the subject of weight. We’re left to accept Robin on the movie’s terms without any attempts to justify how an obese woman attracts so many guys.
At some point after the first act – and definitely before the film’s mid-point – the relative charms start to fade. Single wants to be a female empowerment movie, but it still focuses so heavily on the characters’ attempts to snare men that it sends a mixed message. Sure, it digs itself out of that hole a bit by the end, but this seems like a compromised, unconvincing finale.
Single also jumps all over the place in terms of tone, and that causes problems – again, especially after the halfway mark. When it stays light and frothy, it manages entertainment, but as it takes itself more seriously, the results go downhill.
This becomes especially true when Alice starts to develop a relationship with wealthy developer David (Damon Wayans Jr.) and the story abruptly jumps ahead three months. Viewers may wonder if the filmmakers left gobs of development on the floor, as the material after this leap doesn’t fit naturally with the preceding moments. We’re pushed ahead too fast and feel like we missed important beats, factors that rob the rest of the movie of impact.
Even if the story progressed more organically, though, I think the second half of Single would’ve been a tough slog. The movie wants to be a comedy from start to finish but it indulges in sappy drama because it thinks it should.
It shouldn’t. If Single focused on what it did best, it would’ve been a mostly entertaining romp through dating life in the big city. Unfortunately, its delusions of drama sap its energy and leave it lackluster in the end.