Alex Casey is a staff writer for New Zealand pop culture-obsessed website The Spinoff and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Alex Casey: A love letter to female friendship

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Dakota Johnson, left, and Rebel Wilson in a scene from How to Be Single. Photo / Supplied
Dakota Johnson, left, and Rebel Wilson in a scene from How to Be Single. Photo / Supplied

Coming in the wake of last week's sickly Valentine's celebration of love, How to be Single bills itself as a nice kick in teeth to any big heart-holding teddy bears that still might be lingering in bargain bins. It's an unapologetic, callous, and comprehensive look at four women navigating the choppy seas of love, life and yada yada. Stop groaning - it's actually not all that bad.

I should mention that this is not a universal experience. These women are all white, straight and can somehow afford to live alone in their own loft apartments.

Set in the heart of New York City, the story follows the four tangentially linked characters.

Dakota Johnson plays Alice, reprising her role of "confused foal" we last saw in Fifty Shades of Grey last Valentine's. Rebel Wilson is her best friend Robin, proving once again that she doesn't need to play more than one different kind of character across any movie
- and it doesn't matter in the slightest.

Joining them is Leslie Mann as workaholic midwife singleton Meg who, after being knee-deep in placenta, realises she wants a baby on her own.

The final cog is Alison Brie as Lucy, taking the role of "hot nerd", who spends her days crunching numbers on dating sites to find her perfect man. I would like to point out that this is not a real thing and that no woman has ever done that in the history of ever.

How to be Single updates the group-of-New-York-women narrative with a heartstopping spin. Perhaps these women (audible gasp) don't need a man to live a fulfilled life! Part of me is sad that this is still a big revelation in popular culture, but I'll admit the alternative is far worse.

Instead of centring their life on Mr Big, meeting on the Brooklyn Bridge at midnight, or faking an orgasm over lunch with Billy Crystal, the men in the film are almost incidental.

The male characters weave in and out of the women's lives and never plonk themselves heavily in the middle of the narrative. The result is the characters are forced to learn about themselves without being compared to anyone else - full of all the sadness, confusion and joy that comes with that.

Whenever it feels like things in the film are starting to sag, Wilson kneeslides in and says something outrageous about her vagina. It's a killer technique that I wish went over as well in real life.

When we take the magnetic men out of the centre of the rom com, what we get is a love letter to female friendship.

And, like all good love letters, you'll be cringing, rolling your eyes, and definitely crying by the end. This movie relishes in the female experience, where conversations about pubic hair and "friends with benefits" are given centre stage.

I can't reiterate how refreshing it is to see the frank, hilarious chats on screen that I normally only have after about 47 glasses of wine with my closest friends.

What is most enjoyable about How to be Single is that it resists settling on a conclusion about relationships either way. Some of the characters end up finding their (for now, anyway) other halves, others decide to go it alone.

And that's absolutely fine. Cheesy montages of Alice reading a book alone on the sunny balcony and going for a smiley lonesome workout sell singlehood particularly hard.

I think back through watching American Pie, Eurotrip, Old School as a teenager, and how those blokey representations of dating and sex must have informed my worldview in some way or another.

How refreshing and freeing to see it told through a different lens, where an older woman doesn't have to be Stifler's Mom and a young single woman isn't just a conquest to be caught on videotape. Buy an icecream, go alone, thank me later.

Rated M, in cinemas now.

- Spy.co.nz

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Alex Casey is a staff writer for New Zealand pop culture-obsessed website The Spinoff and columnist for the NZ Herald.

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