Oddly titled, Man Up tells the story of Nancy (Lake Bell), a singleton who’s mistaken for stranger Jack’s (Simon Pegg) blind date Jessica, and has no initial intention of revealing her actual identity. High-concept? In parts, though writer Tess Morris and director Ben Palmer do manage to dissolve some of the predictable qualities of romantic comedies quickly, integrating some truly memorable moments in their place.
While not absent of cliché, Man Up attempts to reject conventionality, both narratively and thematically, and for the most part succeeds (cheesy bowling alley montage an exception). Love and its social traditions aren’t treated with particular respect, with facets of marriage and dating being scorned somewhat closely, and, the film’s main maxim is “fuck the past”.
Comedically, the film drifts in between dry wit and physical silliness, while awkwardness is constantly afloat. From the opening scenes, Nancy’s discomfort in social scenarios such as a Hawaiian-themed party, an unrelated blind date and conversing with strangers on trains is established. These aren’t hysterical moments, of which there are plenty later on, but instead serve to position her against the backdrop of romantic convention; the results are subtly funny.
Romantically, Lake Bell and Simon Pegg showcase an instant onscreen connection.
Similarly, upon meeting ‘Jessica’, Jack’s awkward eagerness gives an impression that he too flounders in certain situations. We learn he can be as dishonest as Nancy, constantly trying to impress those around him. The revelations of Pegg’s character within the film’s timeframe are appropriately paced as he and Nancy learn more and more about one another, truths being revealed and awkwardness ceasing, well, between them at least.
Romantically, Lake Bell and Simon Pegg showcase an instant onscreen connection. Seldom does small talk stimulate their characters: their occupations are irrelevant to their developing relationship. Instead, they’re just two people that get along in a world neither has gotten along with for some time. The actors do a tremendous job of convincingly conveying appreciation and elation of each other’s company as the film progresses.
They work well together, with the talented Bell adopting a faultless British accent, and whose character’s confidence has believably been broken by past experiences. Pegg meanwhile brings a surprisingly pitiful soul to the forefront, Jack being described in the film as an emotional jigsaw simply needing to find a way to fit the pieces back together.
A scene the pair share within the unromantic (and very public) confines of a bathroom stall brings them in sync, showing why they are a fitting couple in need of one another. Notably too, Rory Kinnear (known for playing Tanner in the last two and upcoming James Bond films) does an annoyingly good job as Sean, Nancy’s old school classmate, whose lurking presence is both tediously creepy and undeniably amusing.
Despite Man Up only taking place within a space of 24 hours, the development of the core relationship never feels rushed thanks to strong screenwriting, directing and editing. The upbeat pace to Nancy and Jack’s time together, with setting relocation, backtracking and cross-cutting allowing us to constantly be learning new things about the characters, gives the film a seamless tempo appropriate for the goofy story being told.
By the end, at 88 minutes, Man Up is short and sweet, even if it is a little too neat. Everything and everyone comes together a tad too tidily in a film that seeks to strip romantic comedy of its conventions, and it doesn’t quite shake them all off entirely. Fortunately, the charisma of its two leads and overall pleasantness make it so Man Up isn’t spoiled by contradiction. It’s not essential viewing, but is certainly worthwhile.
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