Thursday, February 11, 2016

To be young, ungifted and single

A mush of romcom cliches and self-assertion.

Burdened with a generic-sounding self-help title, How to Be Single proves as superficial as most of the characters it tosses into a romantic stew about recent college grads exploring New York City's social scene. That means they spend lots of times in bars and often can be heard delivering the kind of breezy but forgettable dialogue that it took three screenwriters to concoct.

The movie is based on a 2008 novel by Liz Tuccillo, who also wrote He's Just Not That Into You, another book that was made into a movie. Tuccillo also worked on Sex and the City, and it's possible to view this bit of movie mush as Sex and the City for people who are still paying off their college loans. Don't take that as an endorsement.

Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey) plays the central role, a young woman who breaks up with her college boyfriend (Nicholas Braun) so that she can live alone and discover her identity.

Johnson's Alice lands a job as a paralegal at a law firm where she meets Robin (Rebel Wilson), a woman who has dedicated her life to sex, partying and trying to turn herself into the kind of crude character usually played in ribald comedies by Melissa McCarthy.

Alice's older sister (Leslie Mann) is a doctor who never wants to have a relationship or a family, a sure sign that before the movie ends, she'll have both.

The men in Alice's life are an essentially sorry lot. A bartender friend (Anders Holm) is so thoroughly committed to being single that he has devised ways to keep six partners from lingering in the morning; i.e., don't look for food in his fridge.

An attractive real estate developer (Damon Wayans Jr.) can't talk about his late wife with his young daughter, and can't communicate with Alice, either.

A secondary plot involves another newbie to adult life; Allison Brie's Lucy has but one ambition: She wants to get married.

Movies such as this always require at least one of the men be a too-good-to-be-true stalwart. This time, the job falls to Jake Lacy, who plays a man with a good heart, an unreasonable devotion to Mann's character and no apparent flaws.

True to form, the movie tries to redeem its comic sputtering by tacking on a bit of instruction: Alice must learn how to be comfortable being alone.

Fair enough, but couldn't the writers have been generous enough to give poor Alice a credible career path? Is she condemned to a millennial limbo of subsisting on the economy's fringe?

Appealing in the Pitch Perfect movies, Wilson becomes an irritant in a one-note performance as Johnson's BFF.

Occupying the movie's center, Johnson puts in the kind of mandatory effort required of characters who are finding their way to a self-asserting conclusion that you can see coming from several bar stools away.

To the movie's credit, a couple of turns aren't quite so predictable, but it doesn't take much thought to realize that most of the characters in this film need no coaching on how to be single. They're not especially interesting. So who'd really want to live with them anyway?

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