A good chick flick delivers both escape and empathy to its target female audience – the movie star version of you gets dumped (by a movie star version of the last guy who dumped you), then your movie star version does some soul-searching or gets a makeover and “you” learn some important things, and end up happily ever after, with a movie star.
The idea is to exit the theater (or turn off Netflix) believing that if you eat, pray, love, get a haircut, buy a farm in Tuscany, whatever it is, just do something independent and self-focused, you will find yourself, and love, actually.
“How to Be Single” really wants to do this, and it has its lovely moments. Unfortunately, it suffers from being a relatively low-budget chick flick, so most likely it will land in the Lifetime Movie Network bowl of pablum you snack on while doing laundry or sitting in a medical waiting room. Those who truly appreciate a great chick flick may find it enjoyable, but somewhat disappointing.
Dakota Johnson is charming as Alice, our heroine who kicks things off by doing the dumping. She leaves her seemingly great college boyfriend to learn who she really is as a single woman in that mecca where every Lost Girl goes to find herself: New York City.
Alice lands a job as a paralegal and meets co-worker Robin, played with megawatt charisma by Rebel Wilson. Wilson was born to be a movie star – everything about her is bold, beautiful and brash, and she shines on screen. She also provides most of the film’s giggles with her nutty character, an acid-twist take on Patsy from the sardonic British TV series “Absolutely Fabulous.”
With Robin offering all the wrong ideas, Alice proceeds to stumble through her ersatz enlightenment but only begets a lot of painful wisdom. We “Olds” among the population know this as “life experience” or “mistakes.”
The storyline meanders, and the scenes and pacing don’t really click, but for women in search of a chick-flick fix this will deliver all right. The film is co-produced by Drew Barrymore’s Flower Films, which produced “He’s Just Not That Into You” and “Never Been Kissed” – one of the sugariest, fluffiest, most fun chick flicks ever made.
The always luminous Leslie Mann is a grounding force as Alice’s sister Meg – our unmarried, older, childless, career-dedicated character. Naturally she finds ultimate redemption in IVF and a younger boyfriend.
If themes sound familiar to “Sex and the City” fans it is no accident; the film is based on Liz Tuccillo’s chick-lit best- seller of the same name, and Tuccillo was a writer on the TV show’s infamous episode in which Carrie’s boyfriend coldly broke up with her via a Post-It note. She also co-wrote the book “He’s Just Not That Into You,” which became a bible of sorts for women everywhere who wondered, “Why didn’t he call?”
“Sex and the City” was the mother of all chick flicks wrapped in bite-sized television episodes. The series spawned a whole cultural phenomenon among 30-something women, celebrating designer-label induced credit card debt, and entitled, unrealistic expectations of relationships.
But as white-hot and on-trend as “Sex and the City” was, the fad of four female mirror-gazing characters had an expiration date. The films it spawned missed their mark because the relentlessly detailed search for the ultimate, perfect relationship and the ultimate, perfect shoe simply went out of style.
Chick flicks are a little different now. Women don’t gaze in the mirror anymore, they take selfies and post them to Instagram. Twentysomethings may get Alice, but older women may not — the difference between “YOLO!” (“You Only Live Once”) and “Thanks, but I’m trying to cut down.”
Mann’s character Meg delivers the best truth about the chick-flick Siren call, and it foreshadows something that “How to Be Single” does really get right – the ending.
Referencing “Sex and the City,” Meg sagely tells her younger sister Alice that those women didn’t really have the answers, as she encourages Alice to really focus on what makes herself happy.
“All those girls ever did was look for boyfriends,” she said.
Alice’s final choice is a little surprising. It may not make you move to New York City or get a haircut, but that walk out of the theater might be a little inspired after all.
“How To Be Single”
2 stars (out of four)
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson and Leslie Mann. Directed by Christian Ditter. 110 minutes.
Rated: R for sexual content and strong language throughout.