How To Be Single doesn't set itself up as a guide or a cautionary tale or a comic coping manual – in fact, it could almost do with a question mark at the end of the title. It's a romcom about certainties and uncertainties, with Dakota Johnson as Alice, a shy college graduate who suggests to her long-term boyfriend that they separate for a time: she tells him she wants to discover who she is on her own.
Tentative and anxious, newly arrived in New York, she's the quiet centre of the film, set against the more sharply defined characters around her: her new colleague, Robin (Rebel Wilson), who has ferociously embraced hedonism, and draws the timid Alice into her orbit; there's Alice's sister, Meg (Leslie Mann) a work-focused obstetrician who unexpectedly finds herself longing for a baby.
Secondary characters also include Tom (Anders Holm), a bar attendant who has refined the art of remaining single into an exact science; and David (Damon Wayans Jr), a single father whom she meets when she's trying to network. Lucy Alison Brie), obsessively searching dating sites for her perfect match, is an amped-up comic foil who interacts mainly with Tom.
How To Be Single is based on a novel by Liz Tuccillo. It is directed by Christian Ditter from a screenplay by a veteran romcom writing crew: Abby Kohn, Mark Silverstein and Dana Fox (whose CVs include Valentine's Day, He's Just Not That Into You and The Wedding Date). At it feels at times like a work of pooled resources, a series of case studies or separate characters shoe-horned into a plot, with a few telling gags inserted at various points. Meg seems to have wandered in from quite another film, and the movie could easily dispense with her altogether. Lucy is on her own comic track; the hyperactive Robin takes charge of every scene she's in.
Yet there are quite a few elements to appreciate in this mixed-up patchwork. The movie doesn't pair off its characters neatly at the end – it lets them go at a certain point, when some have learned a little more about themselves. Being single is treated as neither a triumphant achievement nor a terrible disaster. Wilson's character isn't expected to have mended her wild ways. And no one has come to New York to be an artist or a writer – an almost shocking departure from the usual storyline.