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Review: 'How to Be Single' is decent indecent date flick for Valentine's Day

Robin (Rebel Wilson), right, is a perpetual party girl who guides newly single Alice (Dakota Johnson) in How to Be Single.
Robin (Rebel Wilson), right, is a perpetual party girl who guides newly single Alice (Dakota Johnson) in How to Be Single.
Published Feb. 11, 2016

How to Be Single, a guide to life, liberty and the pursuit of free drinks in clubs, is Carrie Bradshaw brand sex, but funnier, messier and closer to real.

Keeping only the title of Liz Tuccillo's book, How to Be Single creates four relationship arcs, each a variation on familiar romantic issues in movies. None would be a good movie idea at feature length but juggled like dates and sprinkled with crude wit, these cliches mostly entertain.

The hub of this roundelay is Alice (Dakota Johnson), whose "need to know who I am, on my own" soon relies upon more help than that. Alice leaves longtime lover Josh (Nicholas Braun) for Manhattan and a paralegal job where she meets Robin (Rebel Wilson), a perpetual party girl who'll be her hangover guide.

Alice also leans on older sister Meg (Leslie Mann), a single obstetrician considering a baby to be a "tiny little love terrorist" she never wants to have. That feeling changes around the time a really nice, younger guy (Jake Lacy) sidles into her life.

More peripheral to their stories is Lucy (Alison Brie), an obsessive using Excel spreadsheets and blind dating to find Mr. Right. Mainly she's in the movie to mooch free Wi-Fi from the pub where Tom (Anders Holm), the patient zero of this movie's hookup outbreak, is a bartender. Anyone looking to get lucky in New York goes there; you can guess where the movie goes from there.

These subplots are weaved by director Christian Ditter with the requisite last-call interludes and musical montages intact. How to Be Single isn't doing anything that some flop probably starring Katherine Heigl hasn't done before. This appealing cast at times works wonders with what they're being asked to play.

None more than Johnson, whose Alice isn't always scripted as consistent in her desires from one scene to the next. Her push-pull relationship with Josh, each taking too many turns leaving the other, is glib filler that Johnson sells completely. A flirty detour with David (Damon Wayans Jr.) comes from and goes to nowhere yet Johnson crookedly smiles her way through.

On the other hand — the one slapping men's bums — Wilson's Robin is laser-focused on bawdy physical comedy, subtext be damned. Practically every line Wilson flings is aimed at some dude's junk, unapologetically promiscuous with plus-sized confidence. She's steamrolling sexy, a key element of the first hour's success, and its second half stalls when Robin is set aside.

Valentine's Day begs for a dirty rom-com and this fits the bill, with its quotable flirtspeak, sexual euphemisms, and the mic-drop breakup line: "I think maybe we should only see other people." How to Be Single contains just enough of such clever moments to be a decent indecent date flick.

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Contact Steve Persall at spersall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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