There will come a moment, soon I hope, that Dakota Johnson will find her path to greatness. As a performer, there is something in her that her contemporaries seem to lack, an understated intelligence, a manner in which you can tell there’s a real person there. When someone talks to her on screen you can see that she’s thinking. Maybe that’s just something I’ve interpreted, but I think it’s special – she reminds me a lot of her grandmother, Tippi Hedren. My problem is that it doesn’t really fit with the movie’s she seems to find herself in. Fifty Shades of Grey? Need for Speed? Cymbeline? She has a screen presence that suggests that she should be in films like Spotlight.
That’s a nice way of saying that she is using her special qualities in movies that don’t deserve them. Take the latest, How to Be Single, a disposable rom-com that does no favors for her or the genre. There is nothing especially wrong with this movie, but there’s nothing especially noteworthy either. Here is a movie that feels a lot like a Greatest Hits collection of the rom-coms you’ve been going to over the past 10 years. It gathers all of the comic overtones and heartfelt moments and wraps them up into a tender-hearted burrito that you’ll enjoy while you’re watching it but probably cash out of your memory banks as soon as its over. It chases The Hangover, “How I Met Your Mother” and steals borrows great heaping gobs of Bridesmaids. Yet it never finds an identity for itself.
Johnson is at the center here in a role that should have been a movie by itself. She plays Alice, a twenty-something who “takes a break” from her relationship with her long-time boyfriend John (Nicholas Braun) and moves to New York to work as a paralegal. The relationship is complicated when the “break” breeds new relationships on either side, especially for Alice who goes through a series of rotating suitors even though she tries to resist the temptation to find a man.
Hovering in her immediate hemisphere are her three BFFs; her sister Meg (Leslie Mann) an OB/GYN who rejects the notion of a husband and kids. There’s Lucy (Alison Brie), a lonely-heart who is on an all-consuming mission to find “The One.” And there’s Robin (Rebel Wilson), a cliche who is a free-spirited and apparently self-destructive party girl who is always either hung-over or in pursuit of the male sex organ. She’s one of those movie-types that parties all the time but never has to face any consequences. Where are the consequences? Where is the sadness? Where are the morning-after problems? She’s a cliche and that doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the film.
The pieces and parts of other (and much better) rom-com standards are present here but they are stitched together into a movie that is really hard to care about, mainly because you already know where it is going. Does it surprise you that workaholic Meg’s biological clock goes off the moment she looks into a baby’s eyes? Does it surprise you that Lucy falls for the guy running the bar that she has an argument with? Does it surprise you that Robin’s bacchanalian lifestyle comes buttoned with a tag of wisdom for the heartaching Alice? Does it surprise you that, for the ump-teenth time, we get the “Sex and the City” vision of New York featuring stylish cloths and comfortable apartments? Again, you’ve seen it all before and done way better.