How to Be Single (2016)

I feel like I’ve been taking on quite a few unchallenging romcoms lately (as I did action films last year), and it’s a genre that more than many really does stand or fall on the likeability of its lead actors, and the breeziness of its writing. Which is just as well for How to Be Single because it has plenty of both. I mean, sure, it has some cloying sentimentality — most notably when Leslie Mann’s embittered character Meg gets the sudden desire to have a baby after apparently working for years as a maternity doctor — and it does suggest that being single is just a step on the path towards happy, heteronormative coupledom. Still, throughout its running time it does admirably stay focused on the single life of its four female leads, and when characters do get into relationships the film swiftly fast-forwards from first kiss to break-up via an intertitle (e.g. “3 months later”). It also along the way challenges the idea that having children without a father should be strange (though there’s a small role in this respect for Jake Lacy, which seems to present an alternative path from his character in Obvious Child). But whatever else it may do, it’s mostly about how lovely and watchable and empathetic Dakota Johnson is as a star — which is great because she was by far the best thing about Fifty Shades of Grey — and it has a good supporting turn from Rebel Wilson, who thankfully is not required to do an American accent, even if her character can sometimes be just a little too far along the ‘wacky/fun/drunk comedy sidekick’ continuum. Of the other stars, Alison Brie has a fairly minor role, and only Anders Holm as bar owner Tom really makes much of an impression amongst the roster of boyfriends, partners and love interests. Still, that’s fine by me, because this is a film primarily about the women’s experience of New York. It’s largely a middle-class vision (the script cheerfully references Friends and Sex and the City, of course), and as I said above, it doesn’t really challenge too many orthodoxies, but it’s likeable.

How to Be Single film posterCREDITS
Director Christian Ditter; Writers Dana Fox, Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein (based on the novel by Liz Tuccillo); Cinematographer Christian Rein; Starring Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Leslie Mann, Alison Brie, Anders Holm; Length 109 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld West India Quay, London, Monday 1 March 2016.


Sleeping with Other People (2015)

Having recently watched director Leslye Headland’s first film Bachelorette, I get the sense that she likes characters who are deeply unhappy — not unreasonable, as happy people can make for dull comedies — but at least in this case they are largely likeable. Jake (Jason Sudeikis) and Lainey (Alison Brie) first hook up in college and then, over a decade later, run into each other in New York, whereupon they resume a flirtatious relationship, all of which takes place against various meltdowns in their respective personal lives. It’s the usual stuff of romantic comedies — misunderstandings, infidelities, messy breakups, awkward one-night-stands — except here our leads are largely to blame. It’s the easy charm of the actors that prevents their self-involved sex-addicted characters becoming too tiresome, and they have some nice laid-back chemistry together. The last 10 minutes feel particularly forced, including a stupid cafe fight worthy of Bridget Jones’s Diary, but it allows generic convention to run its course. The film also makes Jake’s notable character trope his tendency towards mansplaining, which is really pushed into the territory of uncomfortable laughs. I guess that kind of blend of discomfort and comedy is a hallmark here, and viewers could go either way on it. I’ll be honest: my benign tolerance for it might be something to do with seeing the new Tarantino film directly after, which scorched the earth to such an extent that I can’t help but feel fondly about this little unprepossessing New York-set romcom-with-a-twist.

Sleeping with Other People film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Leslye Headland; Cinematographer Ben Kutchins; Starring Jason Sudeikis, Alison Brie, Adam Scott, Jason Mantzoukas, Natasha Lyonne; Length 101 minutes.
Seen at Prince Charles Cinema, London, Saturday 9 January 2016.