The description on the DVD did not make How to Be Single look promising. Describing singles at “lonelyhearts?” That’s a pretty crappy wording IMHO. And the picture of Rebel Wilson, Alison Brie, Leslie Mann, and Dakota Johnson, in conjunction with the Valentine’s Day release date, make it look like a typical romcom. And the film does have some of those features. That being said, it’s a step in a more positive direction with respect to singlehood portrayal.
The film intersects a few different storylines. The first involves Alice, who’s never known adult life single, having gotten with her boyfriend Josh during her first year of college and being with him ever since. She proposes a temporary break-up during which she wants to learn “how to be single.” “I need to know who I am alone,” she says. I don’t think she’s a Single at Heart character, but she has the right idea.
Meg, her sister, is a gynecologist who decides she doesn’t want to have a baby – until she changes her mind. That storyline is a bit anti-Childfree by Choice, but the romance she becomes involved in is with a guy who, when he was eight, chose “Stay-at-Home Dad” as his Halloween costume, so there’s some subversion in that storyline.
Lucy is my least favorite in the film, a type who’s used algorithms to find “the perfect match.” She gets together with George, who saves her from a meltdown she has while in her volunteer position as a “Story Time” reader to preschool children. They end up getting married. Savior complex, anyone? Yeah, this is where I’ll stop because that relationship just spells “codependency” right there.
I will use the remainder of this blog to focus on Alice, who moves to New York City, one of the Singles capitals of the world, to become a paralegal. There, she befriends Robin, who is the film’s designated Single at Heart person. The film does exaggerate her a bit, making her a promiscuous party-girl, but it doesn’t judge her for her choices. And in Alice’s closing voice-over, she mentions “some people take baby steps to settling down, others refuse to settle down” in a way that indicates there is no right or wrong path to leave. During her line “others refuse to settle down,” we see Robin partying it up in a club, having the time of her life.
Alice learns a lot from Robin. Throughout the film, she and Josh keep teetering back and forth on the possibility of getting back together. Once Alice is ready to go back to Josh, he’s with someone else. The writers tease at them reconciling, but as they’re about to commence lovemaking, Josh mentions that them hooking up be a good way to get “closure” before he’s ready to start his new life with his fiancé. Alice wisely leaves.
Alice has some pretty nice dreams of what to do with her singlehood: reading a book as she sits on her windowsill in her own apartment and hiking the Grand Canyon. During a montage near the end, we see her doing the former while training to do the latter. The final scene has her hiking on New Year’s Day, as she had wanted to do. The last line says something to the effect of, “there’s a moment when you’re not tied up in a relationship, whether it’s with a significant other, a pet, a friend, a sibling, when you’re just completely truly single, and then, it’s gone.” She’s enjoying that moment when she turns to face something off-screen. I think the makers meant to keep that off-screen, but I do wonder what it was. A cute guy? A deer? A new friend to make on the trail? A more conventional film would have ended with the cute guy, but this one just cuts to black, leaving the reader guessing.
This movie was made in 2016; much more pro-single content has come out in the media and in popular culture, so the message feels a bit dated. But it was a step in a positive direction. And the classic line "There's a right way to be single" (with a shot on Robin) and a "wrong way to be single" (with a shot on Lucy) sums it up.