Film Review: Better Off Single

You’d be better off not watching.
Specialty Releases

The world’s not exactly hurting for generic rom-coms about attractive young professionals navigating the New York dating scene from the comfort of their unrealistically large apartments (I blame the last one on “Friends”), but if it were, writer-director Benjamin Cox’s Better Off Single still wouldn’t be worth the time it takes to watch it. Aaron Tveit stars as Charlie, who suffers an existential crisis of the romantic kind after breaking up with his girlfriend Angela (Abby Elliott), and… wait, no “and.” That’s the whole movie. There’s nothing else to it.

Better Off Single is sprinkled with offbeat stylistic touches—including hallucinations, flashbacks, fantasy sequences and an inexplicable split-screen segment—that seek to jazz up a story that’s honestly too basic to be told for the umpteenth time. The characters and the story alike are boilerplate. Charlie is the neurotic hunk, somewhat self-absorbed but ultimately well-meaning, who loses his girlfriend and his job on the same day and doesn’t know what to do with himself afterwards. Kal Penn is the horndog friend who advocates one-night stands; Shane McRae is the responsible friend with a steady girlfriend and a nuclear family looming in his future. Yawn.

To Better Off Single’s credit, some of the aforementioned fantasy sequences—like one where Charlie and his friends stroll through the Central Park Zoo and come across an enclosure of bankers, scrabbling through the dirt in bedraggled suits—are amusing…but they rarely fit organically into the rest of the film. The impression one gets is that Cox had a notebook with a whole bunch of sketch-comedy concepts, so he threw them all in one script and hoped for the best. (A riff on airlines’ draconian restrictions about carry-on luggage? To quote Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada…“groundbreaking.”) And for every legitimately funny moment, there’s a clunker, like this gem: “You know what? I do have a potty mouth, and this potty mouth is sick of your shit.”

At one point, midway through a meet-cute at the unemployment office, Charlie pulls out a Rick Blaine quote. The woman’s response (“Casablanca, niiiiiice) calls to mind nothing so much as the bookstore scene from David Wain’s admittedly middling rom-com spoof They Come Together: “You like fiction books?” Except, here, it’s played straight. Not nice. Not nice at all.

The inclusion of Angela’s Republican parents (Chris Elliott and Haviland Morris), a dinner with whom sparks the breakup of her and Charlie’s relationship, gives Cox the chance to shoehorn in his own liberal ideas about immigration and same-sex marriage. And they’re ideas I agree with, but my God, man, edit. Everything gets a cheap, obvious aside here, from corporate culture (a company uses a Magic 8 Ball to decide who they’re going to lay off) to hookup culture. The whole thing is capped off by a predictable third-act revelation that singledom is about the journey, not the destination, and one should “enjoy the ride” instead of obsessing over finding your dream woman. That’s paired, of course, with Charlie actually finding his dream woman, because that’s how this works. It’s trite and annoying, just like this movie.

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