The trailer promised a sex crazed, girl power, easy-to-watch chick flick. And, to be fair, it totally was. But it was an actually good sex crazed, girl power, easy-to-watch chick flick.
When I sat down to watch How to Be Single I was expecting to be vaguely entertained: to laugh a bit, ‘aww‘ a few times, leave the cinema chirpy and then promptly forget everything that happened as it merged into every other trashy film ever in my memory. But I was pleasantly surprised; I’m still kind of surprised now. Don’t get me wrong, this is not the cleverest or most artsy or deepest film you will ever see. But it’s definitely above average.
We meet whimsical but mildly annoying Alice (Dakota Johnson) taking a ‘break’ from her also a bit dappy, also mildly annoying boyfriend Josh (Nicholas Braun) because she wants to learn who she is on her own. Moving to the big city Alice embarks on a whirlwind, independent woman fuckfest aided and abetted by new BFF Robin (Rebel Wilson) and her Doctor sister Meg (Leslie Mann). We’re also swiftly introduced to Lucy (Alison Brie) who’s clever as fuck but obsessed with finding love, and commitment-phobic-and-proud Tom (Anders Holm). At this point you think you can see the trajectory of the plot: everyone will get some, everyone will have a deep emotional moment and then everyone will politely couple off into their relationships and society will be returned to blissful normality with no brash promiscuous women running around expecting to have it all.
But this is where How to Be Single stops conforming. It has happy endings that turn out not to be happy endings at all, they’re just part of the many ups and downs of life. It has women who genuinely value their careers and their independence over relationships. It has men who are are primary care givers and proudly so. One of the main love interests is black. Women do not automatically keel over when men declare their love. Not once are women judged for having sex, or careers, or children, or all of the above. And, crucially, not everyone ends up in a couple. The main lesson learnt here really is about how to be single, how to depend on yourself and how to develop as an individual. And its great. Because although I am a total sucker for cheap crappy romcoms with happy endings, they are 100%, grade-A bullshit. I’m tired of them, and after decades of relentless socialisation I could probably vom up gender stereotypes and confetti. If we keep absorbing this crap where women are only ever finally happy because they’ve ‘tied down’ a man then thats what we’ll keep aiming for in life and, surprise surprise, its not actually a recipe for a life well-lived.
Ideally I want to see more films about women pursuing their dreams like Joy or excelling at their careers unapologetically like, er, maybe Meryl Streep in Devil Wears Prada, but even that‘s a stretch. I want women like Jessica Jones on the big screen as much as their male counterparts and I want it to be so commonplace that no-one even notices. But actually, for a generation raised on disney princesses and Bridget Jones, the importance of a film where a woman doesn‘t end up with a man, and is still happy, cannot be underestimated.
It’s not that this film is flawless – it’s pretty whitewashed and completely heteronormative; Johnson is at times quite dull to watch and Rebel Wilson’s Robin is indistinguishable from her Fat Amy in Pitch Perfect, Janice in What to Expect When You’re Expecting or Daphne in A Few Best Men (although I find her funny every time). The filming is clearly meant to be more artsy than it maybe achieves and the characters are, as per, unrealistically beautiful and seem to have endless supplies of money. It is not some giant radical leap for feminism. But it does take female characters who should have been standard for years and make them the norm. And, on a final note, there’s also something about a woman gyrating on a packed dance floor, wearing a dress with an LED arrow pointing at her crotch that is its own wonderful kind of empowering.
Images courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures