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Film Review: How to be Single

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★★★★☆

Dakota Johnson and Rebel Wilson make a great pairing in this just-slightly-cleverer-than-expected non rom-com: Johnson’s Alice, a sort of understated and inoffensive everywoman, acts as the perfect foil for Wilson’s predictably loud, liberated and entirely free Robin, in a film that finally rewrites the “single girl” genre for the 21st Century.

Both are great actresses – albeit with entirely different styles – and their story takes on a familiar guise: a young woman (Johnson) breaks up with her long-term boyfriend and moves to New York to “find herself” in a post-university fit of independence, wherein she is befriended by a party-ready colleague - who might just teach her a few life lessons.

The premise might have been done a thousand times, but How to be Single transcends the predictability of its genre and is deliberately knowing – pointed references to Bridget Jones and Sex and the City firmly let us know that it’s ok, the creators are in on the joke too.

And it works. The set-up might be universal, but it doesn’t mean the storytelling has to be.

How to be Single is marketed as a rom-com, and on the surface that’s what it appears to be. But look a bit deeper and you’ll find that the opening manifesto – that this is a story about what happens between relationships, when those in their early 20s and trying to work out who they are are free to do just that – is actually fairly accurate. Relationships punctuate in How to be Single; they don’t define. Instead, the focus is on the characters themselves – it’s not how to be single, per se, but rather how to be independent, how to follow dreams without relying on others, and, ultimately, how to grow up. It’s a story worth telling, and one that we don’t see enough – especially when it comes to young women.

And yes, there’s a happy ending – but it’s not the one you’d get in lesser coming of age films.

Of course, Johnson and Wilson aren’t the only ones trying to work out how to do life properly in How to be Single. Great performances also come from Alison Brie and Leslie Mann, whose characters - despite some decisions that would see them potentially labelled as crackpot singletons in other comedies – are given the respect they deserve in terms of both script and direction. The eventual choices made in their arcs once again prove that this film isn’t interested in taking the predictable route.

So, How to be Single exists it the gaps between relationships – so can we justifiably call it a rom-com? I think we can. There’s a running scene followed by a bungled declaration of love (of sorts), for one thing. It’s the love between friends, sisters, and that which the characters have for themselves that take centre stage here, though, rather than conventional couple-led romance. And we should give applause all round for that.  

How to be Single is out in UK cinemas now.

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