How To Be Single Is Almost Groundbreaking

Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros.
How to Be Single isn’t a particularly subtle movie. There is, for instance, a montage of a character moving to NYC while Taylor Swift’s “Welcome To New York” plays. So the fact that Hailee Steinfeld’s “Love Myself” accompanies the closing credits should tell you something about the fate of the movie’s protagonist. The song goes: “Gonna love myself / No, I don't need anybody else.”

Spoiler alert: How to Be Single (which opens in theaters today) does not conclude with the main character getting coupled up. In that way, it's almost revolutionary. Almost.

At the center of this sugary confection is Dakota Johnson’s Alice. Alice has a college boyfriend, but she decides they need some time apart, so she moves to the big city to get some Real Life Adult Experience under her belt. She befriends Robin, a hedonist played by Rebel Wilson, who encourages her to go out and hook up. She forms a booty-call friendship with a lothario (Anders Holm) and dates a single dad (Damon Wayans Jr.). She moves into her own place and gets really bummed out when she can't unzip her dress. (A tragedy of the highest order, certainly.) She nearly has a fling with her ex. Ultimately, Alice doesn’t settle down with Prince Charming. Instead, she solidifies her bond with Robin. She learns that it’s important to treasure your female friendships and relish the time in your life when you are on your own.

"I wanted to kind of send a message out there that it’s okay, that you’re going to be okay," screenwriter Dana Fox tells Refinery29. "Your friends can be your family. You don’t necessarily need someone else to complete you the way that society convinces you you do."

Typically, romantic comedies that end with a woman alone have a bittersweet tinge. In Broadcast News, Holly Hunter (wisely) chooses her journalistic integrity over a relationship. Julia Roberts dances with her gay best friend at the end of My Best Friend’s Wedding after reaching devastating lows trying to break up Dermot Mulroney’s marriage. Laura Linney gets the most depressing Love Actually storyline when she ends up spending Christmas with her mentally ill brother. How to Be Single may not be on par with those movies quality-wise, but its idea of a triumphant single lady breaks new ground. Even Carrie Bradshaw couldn't end up single. Her coupling with Mr. Big at the end of the series "ultimately betrayed what [the series] was about," creator Darren Star recently wrote. (How to Be Single is based on a book by Sex and the City writer Liz Tuccillo.)

Which is not to say How to Be Single doesn't resort to storytelling devices that stretch human credulity. For instance, Alice’s sister, Meg (Leslie Mann), gets pregnant via IVF. In a fit of hormonal horniness, she hooks up with a nice young man in the form of Jake Lacy, who plays all the nice young men in movies and TV shows these days. They continue dating, despite her attempts to ditch him. When he finally gets wind that she’s pregnant, he’s not actually pissed or put off. He wants to be a stay-at-home dad. After a brief spat, they eventually live happily ever after. Then, there’s Alison Brie’s online dating-obsessed Lucy. After a particularly brutal dumping, she freaks out in a bookstore when reading to children...and promptly meets her future Mr. Right (Jason Mantzoukas).

Fox herself acknowledges that How to Be Single walks the line between reality and wish-fulfillment fantasy. (You won't see any of the characters glued to Tinder, even though dating apps are a routine part of single life these days.) The screenwriter explains that the goal was to evoke comfort-food films and TV series, like Bridget Jones's Diary and Sex and the City, while also calling them on their bullshit. "[We try to] have it work as one of those movies that makes you feel really good inside, but at the same time, we're taking the piss out of those movies."

How to Be Single essentially has the same lesson as many of its rom-com predecessors: The right guy will come along when you least expect it. But it weaves something new into that retro formula when it allows Alice to forge her future happily unattached. That shouldn't be radical, but in Hollywood, it is.
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