Stop me if you've heard this one before: Four girls, all single, struggle to find love in Brooklyn. But maybe their friendship is all they really needed.
How To Be Single is an attempt to recreate the Girls equation, only with women characters whom focus groups deem likable. We first meet Alice (Dakota Johnson) in voiceover, recalling the time her freshman year she met cute with her college boyfriend Josh (Nicholas Braun), locking herself out of her dorm room when, oops, her towel got caught in the door, and uh-oh, she's naked! And so is he! In front of all these people! But by graduation, it's time to take a little hiatus, just so she can be sure he's the right guy to spend the rest of her life with. Besides, she's going to be living in Brooklyn with her rich OBGYN sister Meg (Leslie Mann), working as a paralegal, so who knows what could happen?
The first thing that happens is she meets Robin (Rebel Wilson), her legal firm coworker who shows her the places in the office where the security cameras can't see. Robin is on a quest to "bang her way through Brooklyn," and drags Alice along with her. When Alice decides she's sown enough wild oats, she discovers that she has blown it with Josh and must navigate life on her own. Meanwhile, Lucy (Alison Brie) is using a more exact approach. She's got a database. To get a strong enough wi-fi signal on her brand new MacBook Pro (TM), she's got to sit at the bar manned by Tom (Anders Holm), a guy Robin describes as a "palate cleanser, a sexual sorbet." Copious drinking and sexual hijinx ensue, that eventually snare David (Damon Wayans Jr.), a successful professional something-or-other raising a cute young daughter on his own.
How To Be Single is a TV series trapped in a movie's body: Specifically, it's Sex and the City, only with computers, because we hear that's how the kids are hooking up these days. It's based on a book by He's Just Not That Into You author Liz Tuccillo, who, surprise, got her start as a writer on Sex and the City. The shapeless plot seems to be composed from a handful of rejected storylines from the seminal, fin de siècle HBO series. For example, the film's only title card cuts out the middle of Alice and David's relationship with a simple THREE MONTHS LATER, skipping all that pesky character building that on TV would have been a half-season arc.
How To Be Single isn't all bad. Christian Rein's cinematography is above average, and Christian Ditter has some nice directorial flourishes, such as the Diary of a Teenage Girl-inspired onscreen graphics and a fluidly staged apartment-decorating scene. Johnson manages to rise above the material, seemingly eager to portray a human being after her star-making turn as a fantasy projection device in Fifty Shades of Grey. Wilson also manages to hold her dignity, scoring with the requisite, Judd Apatow-inspired, unedited string of improv jokes. When Johnson plays straight woman to Wilson, it's apparent that a two-hander comedy starring those two actresses with the same director/cinematographer combo could potentially work pretty well.
But this is not that movie, and no amount of "hey, at least they seem to be trying" can excuse the phoned-in plotting and prefab, contrived wish-fulfillment that passes for a screenplay. I realize I'm not the target audience for How To Be Single, but if I were, I would feel insulted. Carrie Bradshaw, where are you when we need you?