Whether you’re single or taken, don’t stress about Valentine’s Day plans this weekend. Here’s what to do instead: Gather your best buds and go see How to Be Single. Starring Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Leslie Mann, Alison Brie, and a slew of adorable, charming, funny guys (Damon Wayans, Jr., Jake Lacy, Jason Mantzoukas, Anders Holm, to name a few), the heartwarming—but never sappy—film is yet another send-up to friendships being the most important relationship in your life. (Though if you fall in love with Jake Lacy, we won’t blame you.) We chatted with Dana Fox, who co-wrote and produced the film, to talk about the need for more female-driven comedies, why you should take a bathroom break before you see it, and so much more. (FYI: Light spoilers ahead!)
Glamour: Hello there!
Dana Fox: Hello! I’m having the best day. I have 17 kids, so anytime I get let out of the house I’m like, “Woo! Let’s party! Let’s drink some coffee and say things we shouldn’t say!”
Glamour: Well, I’m excited to talk to you too! I loved the movie.
Dana: I will say, I have a healthy dose of self-loathing about my work and pretty much hate everything I ever do because I always think I can do better. But with this one, I was pregnant as f-ck and at every screening I was in I had to pee so badly, but I never wanted to leave because I actually really like every scene in the movie. I was like, ” Oh, I don’t want to miss this part! This is the great part where the thing happens with the thing or the moment with Dakota and the thing. I love her so much, and I just want to see her do that thing one more time.” I think it bodes well for the movie because I’ve seen it 60 thousand times, and I’m not bored of it. Go see it this Valentine’s Day: You could be the hero that brought your friends to the movie!
Glamour: I will definitely be recommending it. I think the bathroom thing is a true testament, speaking as someone who sits in the aisle seat specifically because I have to take a break during every single movie I see.
Dana: The truest form of compliment, as a fellow frequent pee-er.
Glamour: So, I thought going in that it would be a lot about relationships, but when I saw the movie, I realized it’s so much more about the ladies’ friendships.
Dana: I’m so happy this is what you want to talk about because truly I think you understand me as a person because all these other interviews they’re like, “Is there anything else you want to get out there?” And I’m like, yes, I will stand up on a soap box and tell you I think the word rom com is a sexist term that other people apply to movies that apply to women that validate the female experience. Nobody would say that about a movie that had a bunch of guys in it talking about their relationships. They’d say it was a comedy. They always do. Nobody is calling Knocked Up a rom com because it’s a guy having a relationship journey. They don’t call Woody Allen’s movies a rom com, and it dives me a little bit bonkers because it’s a way of diminishing and putting it into a category. I hope that people know that this is a comedy because that’s how the movie plays. You’re laughing the whole time, and then you’re sort of surprised by how much emotion you’re feeling and that you cared about the characters. But it plays like a comedy because you’re getting a look at what it’s like to try to be single. The whole conceit of the movie is that it’s not about relationships, so it just drives me crazy when people call movies that have females in it rom coms because I think it’s total bullshit.
Glamour: That’s the whole point of our Rom Com Week on Glamour.com—to explore what’s typically seen as a romantic comedy and what that even means. Knocked Up and Annie Hall are comedies about relationships, so technically the term rom com applies. So, I think How to Be Single is a great case: It’s a female-driven comedy, and, yes there are relationships, but at the end of the day, it’s about this friendship.
Dana: There was a day when another producer and I were talking about [the structure of the movie]—and when we cracked the fact that the structure of the movie has to follow as though it’s a love story between Dakota and Rebel was the day that the structure started making sense. When you have that many characters and have to follow their journeys—and they all have good storylines that you care about—the movie can get very crowded. There’s not a lot of real estate, so you have to be very careful how you’re structuring the movie. So when you cut back and forth, you don’t feel like you lose momentum of the stuff, you feel like you just can’t wait to see the next thing and can’t wait to keep going forward in the movie. That’s a big challenge in a movie like this with this many people that you care about. So, to me, it was a love story between Dakota and Rebel. At the beginning of the movie, Dakota thinks she wants one thing and meets this kind of insane sensei, who kind of makes waves in her life and causes her to reevaluate everything. By the end of the movie, she’s really growing up and saying, “Wait a minute, I’m realizing I’m on the wrong journey here with you. I have to get to know myself if I’m going to attract the right guy. I have to figure out who I am in order to do that.” And that was a message I felt really strongly about getting out there because I felt like that is what saved me when I was single and ended up finding someone. I just kept being in these relationships that were not working, and it was because I had a false version of myself out there. I kept attracting the right guy for that version of me, but that version wasn’t who I wanted to be. So until I really let my freak flag fly—accepting that this is who I am, this is me being me, take it or leave it. And only then did I really meet someone who just saw me and said, “You’re crazy, but I find that particular brand of crazy adorable.” I was like, “Right on, man! We’re going to do great because that’s who I am.”
Glamour: That mirrors Alison Brie’s story in the movie perfectly. The second she lets her hair down, she finds somebody.
Dana: Literally, it’s so true. It’s really funny because whenever I write a movie, I try to put as much stuff that’s either true for me or one of my close friends or someone I love into the movie because then I think there’s something I can feel in it that’s very authentic. With the Alison Brie character, I’m pretty type A, pretty A+, and I think I know exactly what I want. I was like, “Everybody, these are the boxes I need to get checked off.” Then I met my husband, and he didn’t check off a single box. He was six years younger than me, super athletic, and you’d have to put a gun to my head to get me to do a push-up. He didn’t satisfy a single requirement or box, but he was like, “Whatever, I love you, let’s do this.” I was like, “I kinda love you too.” Cut to we have three insane children and we’re married. That was sort of in the Alison Brie storyline, and I obviously put a lot of young guy stuff from my life into Leslie Mann’s storyline. I’m a total insane workaholic, and I looked up one day and thought, “Wow! I’m 32 and don’t have anyone in my life I want to be with. I’m going to forget to have kids if I’m not careful.” I still wanted to meet somebody, but I didn’t really want to change my work ethic, so I put a lot of the Leslie Mann journey in there. The Jake Lacy character felt a bit like my husband. Hopefully it feels real.
Glamour: That brings me to my next question: Why is Jake Lacy’s character so perfect? He’s the best boyfriend for the modern woman. He loves that she has a career, he’s supportive, he’s charming…
Dana: One of my favorite lines in the movie was contributed by Katie Silverman, who was writing a lot of the improve-y jokes on the side one day, and she’s the one who pitched that joke that “my Halloween costume in the sixth grade was a stay-at-home dad.” That makes me laugh so hard, I can’t stand it. I think the reason he, not to get too feminist on you, but when you have a really strong woman, I think that it’s difficult for two people to be the same kind of alpha strong people in the relationship. But strong women don’t want to date losers—we want to date awesome guys who are sexy and manly, so that’s what informed the Jake character. He’s not like her at all, he loosens her up, and he doesn’t give a shit about his job or what he does. It teaches her to loosen up a little bit, and she teaches him how to access his more manly side, where he’s like, “Pull your shit together. I love you. Get over it. I’m a strong man, and I love kids, and I want to be with you and a baby.” Truly, I don’t know if I could have written that character if I didn’t know that person existed in my husband. When you’re single in a big city like NY or LA, you don’t meet a lot of guys who can’t wait to get married and have kids. It’s not what most guys are out there doing, but he was like that. In addition to that, I think we had a lot of good convos with Jake and Judd Apatow and Leslie about that character that informed it. I’m grateful to them because they brought so much to the table. I won the lottery with that.
Glamour: Did you write the script with a cast in mind? The casting was so well done.
Dana: Yeah, doesn’t it feel like everybody is who they need to be? Basically, that’s because we were writing the Robin character for Rebel. For Dakota, I used to work with her on Ben and Kate, a TV show I created. We fell in love on that show. When it broke up, I say it like it was a heartbreak—it really was my first work heartbreak. I cried for two weeks after because I loved everyone I was working with so much. Dakota and I said at the end of that we had to have an excuse to be in each others’ lives because we love each other too much. This is literally the next thing I asked her to do, so the Alice part was written for her. The Rebel part was written for Rebel, and once you start to do that you dare to dream. You look around you and think, “Leslie Mann is a home run if we can get her.” She’s a comedy all star and improve genius who can actually make the story feel real. That was the most important thing to us—we wanted everything to feel really real. The whole concept of the movie is that you’re sending up these kinds of movies, like [Dakota] gets in the cab, the music swells, it’s emotional, and she’s like, “Home. I’m going home.” And then the driver says, “Bitch, I don’t know where you live!” Pull your shit together, you’re not in a romantic comedy. That was the conceit of the movie, and we needed everybody to feel really real but to still have the movie feel like wish fulfillment and satisfying so that people would watch it and say, “I’m single, and I’m going to be OK.” We got everyone we wanted because once we had those three, everyone wants to be on board. Of course, we then changed everything to whatever fit the person we cast. We played with different lines when we knew who the actors were, so we played with improve. It was a really fun process.
Glamour: Speaking of that scene with the taxi driver, I loved that earlier in the movie they (lovingly!) tease each other about Sex and the City and Bridget Jones’ Diary.
Dana: I’d never poke fun at them for real—it was out of love. I love Bridget Jones’ Diary. I feel like you have to watch it once a year to feel like a human. I have nothing but love for both, but we were trying to make it a little bit more feminist and a more modern women’s perspective to come through because audiences are very smart. It drives me crazy when movies talk down to audiences and assume they’re dumber than they are. So many people have seen so many of these movies now, and the language that these kinds of movies are ingrained in who we are, so we have to play with that a little. You have to be a little self conscious because that’s what people are like when they watch these movies. They’re a little outside of it, but they’re also really enjoying it. That’s what I wanted this movie to feel like. You’re feeling all the feelings you’re supposed to be feeling, but you’re aware that the people making the movie have got your back. We get it. We get the joke.
Glamour: I really loved it.
Dana: I’m so happy people are talking about this. Quite frankly, it’s a lot like voting. They’re not going to make movies starring women that tell female stories unless those movies start making money. It’s almost a political thing.