‘How to Be Single’
Director:
Christian Ditter
Stars: Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson
Rating: R
2 (out of 5) Globes

“Deadpool” and “How to Be Single” don’t have much in common. One’s a Marvel romp, the other a rowdy rom-com. But they share one major trait: They’re both self-aware genre entries that say they’re different but secretly totally aren’t. Like “Deadpool,” “Single” puts its rebellious m.o. in the narration. “Why do we always tell our stories through relationships?” asks Alice (Dakota Johnson), a new New York transplant, fresh out of a long-term relationship. Her chatter sets “Single” up to be an anti-rom-com — an antidote to all those movies, like “Bridget Jones,” and shows, like “Sex and the City,” that look down on solitary characters, pitying them for foolishly never locating their soulmate.

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Of course, it’s definitely that kind of movie. It doesn’t even take long to show its true face. Upon hitting Manhattan, Alice immediately falls in with Robin (Rebel Wilson), a proudly single bar-hopper who schools her in a life of drunken hook-ups. Here’s the rare studio film that doesn’t punish female characters for liking casual sex — at least until it reveals that random flings lead to an empty life, and Alice becomes a traditional rom-com hero fought over by men. There’s also her sister, Meg (Leslie Mann), a workaholic doctor who loudly insists she never wants a kid, until suddenly, 10 screen minutes later, she does. And will the smarmy bartender (Anders Holm) who’s got commitment phobia down to a science eventually reconsider his wicked, wicked ways?

It’s no shock “Single” is quick to flip-flop. The book was writer Liz Tuccillo’s fiction follow-up to her self-help bestseller “He’s Just Not That Into You,” which was turned into another movie that bragged about its tough-love credentials before collapsing into a torrent of “Love Actually” happy endings. (Tuccillo also wrote an episode of “Sex and the City,” though one, appropriately, about the drinks- and drug-fueled fallout of a break-up.)

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“Single” is a little tougher. It has an R-rating, and with it the usual assortment of comic ringers adlibbing up a storm and puffing up the runtime. (Is Jason Mantzoukas in every potty-mouthed comedy? Not that we’re complaining.) Typically Alice would be the vanilla center, but Johnson — slipping her deceptively mousy “Fifty Shades” routine into a different kind of saucy movie — is allowed to crack jokes and show off her subtly killer timing. Mann essentially repeats her “This is 40” grouchiness, this time turning frank about her mutating pregnant body (before turning soft). Wilson is always on hand to coin terms like “sexual rumspringa.”

Still, what kind of movie is “Single”? It may be turn into a movie about one character finding herself, but it doesn’t seem to know. It winds up vacillating between an engaging, sweary-honest rejoinder to rom-coms and a slightly engaging dish of comfort food. Last year’s indie “Sleeping with Other People” slowly turned into a traditional rom-com, which it earned by being bracingly frank and funny. “Single” is all over the place, eventually adopting subplots that never should have been introduced. This is not a movie that can handle a subplot in which Damon Wayans Jr. plays a brooding widower with a young daughter. The end credits may roll without all of its character matched up, but its characters are still defined by whether or not they've found love. It inches its way to a faux-poetic paean to being alone, but it only halfway thinks being single is healthy.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge