*1/2 (out of five)
Dakota Johnson has such a fresh, engaging, likeable screen presence that she single-handedly manages to sublimate the impulse to rip your cinema seat out of the floor and hurl it through the screen while watching the horribly named How To Be Single, a Friday-Night-Girls-Night-Out Warner Brothers / New Line / MGM by-product that is impressively more contrived and vacuous than the other post-Bridemaids cash-ins that have rained down on multiplexes since that film made nearly two hundred million dollars in 2011.
Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey) plays Alice, a young woman who essentially drops her sweet beau Josh (are they all named Josh?) at the start of the film because, among other things, she hasn’t hiked the Grand Canyon. Moving to New York, she is quickly educated by a co-worker, Robin (Rebel Wilson) in “how to be single”. These lessons basically consist of aiming – every night of the week – to get so hammered that sex with a stranger is inevitable, and if you can’t remember the details – of the sex or even the stranger – all the better. Waking up in a random apartment is a bonus.
Putting aside the astonishingly unsafe practices being advocated, and the blasé way in which they’re presented as fun fun fun, this unsustainable lifestyle only scratches the surface of how idiotically life in Manhattan is presented and how ludicrously each of the film’s many characters behaves, from how they talk and walk, dress, eat, drink, flirt and, particularly, work (the workplace scenes here are beyond a joke; “work” in this kind of movie – and in this movie in particular, which is a very bad example of its kind – is just a fancy room with extras in suits opening and closing their mouths silently, like guppies).
Wilson, Leslie Mann and – particularly sadly – the otherwise talented Alison Brie all flail embarrassingly in roles that are too badly written to possibly be acted well. Every man in the film is a plastic construction of vacant, inane banality. Yet somehow Johnson pulls Alice off. Her story is no less clichéd than the others, her dialogue no less asinine. Perhaps her post-Grey glow – and a natural, peaking screen charisma – have a halo effect; you can’t see the actual movie for her sunny trees.