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Meet Charlie (Aaron Tveit), a handsome lovable young man in the throes of a failed relationship with Angela (Abby Elliott), a pretty blonde he met on an airplane who he thought was ‘the one.’ He broke up with her and quit his job on the same day and motivated by a recently divorced playboy that he dives back into the murky waters of the shark-infested dating waters. Naturally, he immediately begins to regret his choices and now he’s got to make that journey back to real life.
See, Charlie spends most of his time in a strange hallucinatory state where he sees the world in a slightly skewered way, exaggerating the details that emphasizes the little annoying things that pop up in his daily life. And sometimes more. It’s not an easy road to travel and along the way, he learns that being himself and being a dater is not an easy act to balance. But it could be fun.
Written and directed by Benjamin Cox, Better Off Single is an odd mix of fantasy and reality that tries to walk a thin line between the two in telling the story of a clean-cut honest young man in search for answers that have long been posed in the history of love and heartache. That there is no real answer has given the film industry countless opportunities to exploit that, propping up an endless line of beautiful people in a host of similar scenarios with lots of happen endings. Cox isn’t about to change anything about that, though he takes a few easy jabs at the genre along the way, some that work but many that don’t.
The cast is spot on, that can’t be denied, with Tveit a charming and compelling actor that carries the light weight of the script well. He seems to get what the film is about and makes the trip with seemingly little effort, which is to say he has a comfortable presence. He’s surrounded by a talented cast of comedy faces that populate all colors of the spectrum of diversity and opinions and while these relationships are meant to be broad, they don’t always find the right tone. In fact the film itself is rigorously committed to its premise of absurd cutaways and sight gags, like a tame Family Guy episode, which initially seems only part of Charlie’s visions of the world, but it breaks that rule occasionally, including a bit about bankers being housed in Central Park like apes in a zoo for which Charlie’s friends see, too. It’s a head-scratching moment because is it real? Are all the bits we’ve seen with Charlie actually true?
There are so many of this visual jokes happening while the story progresses, it loses a lot of its edge and creates some tonal issues that are jarring when the sudden hugely sentimental ending pops up, with narrated slo-motion self-refection and a montage that reveals some larger revelations about the other characters. And this is the central issues since, as nice as Charlie is, we never really know him, nor his friends. The enormous pre-occupation with seeking and having sex is the film’s biggest setback as it treats it too superficially. Simply talking about sex with crude language (including the female cast) doesn’t make it relevant, only excessive. Sex has no consequence here and we see Charlie engage in lots of it (there is no nudity) in montages (scantily-clad girls falling on their backs on a bed trope) that are meant to teach that common lesson about how empty it is without emotion, but since the journey is filled with every other dating cliché, it feels like a missed opportunity.
Better Off Single wants to be a sharp commentary on modern life, and on paper, there’s no doubt it probably looks good. Some will surely find the jokes and humor reflective of their own lives but unfortunately, the film can’t live up to its own clever idea.
Director: Benjamin Cox
Writer: Benjamin Cox
Stars: Aaron Tveit, Kal Penn, Kelen Coleman, Abby Elliott, Annaleigh Ashford, Chris Elliott
Genre: Comedy, Romance