“How to be Single” is mostly about being single in New York, so there are a few expected shenanigans to call out off the bat.
No one you know will live in apartments as spacious or well-furnished as do the characters we meet, and few bartenders are as intimately involved in their regulars’ sex lives as the proprietor of Tom’s Bar, where much of the film is set. I’ve also never had a real New York cab driver ask “where’s home,” though there may be something about me that doesn’t elicit that sort of familiarity so quickly. Those and other blips of accuracy might lessen some of the magic for audiences here in the NYC metropolitan area, but won’t faze the hordes of teenagers sneaking into this movie in suburban theaters across the country this primary season. And the version of New York presented here — gritty in a clean way (our protagonist sits on a fire escape barefoot), friendly without being creepy (to a person, every character is revealed to have only good intentions except a cartoonish ex) — will only further encourage the hordes of college seniors who suspect that moving to the Big (Organically-Grown) Apple after graduation is the quickest and maybe only way to find themselves in a way that also looks good and can be added to their Snapchat Story.
Lest we entice them further, it’s worth considering the film’s broader examination of young urban singledom, that perennial cause célèbre (see Vanity Fair’s “Tinder and the Dawn of the ‘Dating Apocalypse'”). Dakota Johnson plays fairy-tale heroine Alice works her way through what appear to be the emotionally unavailable men who guard the various circles of single hell and emerges to (spoiler alert) finally resist the advances of her doofus ex-boyfriend and hike the Grand Canyon alone in a very New Year, New Me moment — but the trouble is we’ve seen this story too many times before. Beyond feeling vaguely good about the outcome, we don’t learn anything about new about ways we could maybe be that countless other romcoms and teen TV dramas haven’t already beat us over the head with for years.
Rebel Wilson’s mischievous Hulk Smash sidekick character is the only real revelation here as the one character who plays her cards close to the same magical chest from which she pulls champagne bottles, secret Santa gifts, and other accessories. The film’s most lasting and quotable legacy may be her advice to avoid the personality-suppressing effects of “dicksand”, but impressionable audiences need to remember that movies like “How to Be Single” should themselves be approached with the same caution.