WRITTEN REVIEW – Man Up (2015)
Directed by: Ben Palmer
Written by: Tess Morris
Starring: Lake Bell, Simon Pegg, Rory Kinnear & Ophelia Lovibond
Music: Dickon Hinchliffe
Release Date: May 29th 2015
Romantic Comedies have a pretty spotty track record. For every ‘Love Actually‘, there’s about 50 ‘The Ugly Truth‘s. For every ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary‘ there’s 50 ‘Gigli‘s. And for every ‘Not Another Happy Ending‘ there’s 50…okay, you get the point. But what do those three good rom-coms have in common? They’re all British Romantic Comedies. I’m not saying that every Rom-Com that comes from the UK is great and that everything outside of the UK is terrible but in terms of hit-to-miss ratios, the Brits have got Rom-Coms in the bag.
The reason for that could be that UK budgets aren’t nearly as large meaning that there’s no need to go lowest-common-demoninator in order to make money back at the box-office which means that Rom-Coms can be more unique, or daring or even (god forbid) be R-Rated. ‘Man Up‘ is brought to us from director Ben Palmer who knows all about older-skewing material with his critically acclaimed work on ‘The Inbetweeners Movie‘ and its sequel. Combined with acclaimed producer Nira Park (producer of ‘Shaun of the Dead‘, ‘Hot Fuzz‘, ‘Attack the Block‘ and more) means that it’s no surprise that ‘Man Up‘, while not exactly a new benchmark for the British Romantic Comedy, is still a solid effort in the genre.
Nancy (Bell) is a cynical and jaded women in her 30s and looking for love. However, she’s too anti-social, hesitant and pessimistic to give relationships and shot. But one day, while on a train journey to her parent’s wedding anniversary party, she stumbles across Jessica (Lovibond) who is the exact opposite of her and is meeting someone at London King’s Cross on a blind-date where the two will recognise each other by a specific book. Jessica leaves her book on the train accidentally and as Nancy tries to return it, she is mistaken for the blind-date by Jack (Pegg), a rebounding divorcee in his 40s. Nancy decides to be impulsive and go along with the date and she tries to maintain the illusion that she is this person’s blind date over the course of a day.
It’s a kooky premise that’s suitable for the genre and is a solid set-up for some funny gags, however the movie actually don’t attempt to get a lot of mileage out of the “mistaken identity” plot-point. This is mostly due to the fact that Jack and Jessica had never met previously and Jack doesn’t know what she looks like and is only aware of some of her interests and hobbies. While seeing Nancy pretend to be a triathlete in her 20s makes for some strong comedy, the jokes are more character-driven as the story progresses and changes over the course of the movie as these two are genuinely working off a blank-slate with each other.
And the progression of the story is one of the strongest things going for ‘Man Up‘ (which is a pretty generic title that actually doesn’t have much to do with the themes of the movie) is that it takes place over the course of a single day. There’s a short prologue that sets up Nancy as a character, but 90% of the movie takes place on the day of Nancy’s parent’s wedding anniversary. Which means that it’s a more modest tale of an unconventional first date that doesn’t try to punch above its own weight within a short time frame in a linear fashion and while the movie doesn’t take place in real-time and it does frequently time-jump, it does present the novelty of a relationship blossoming before our eyes in unconventional circumstances.
‘Man Up‘ can’t quite escape the very simple solution to this problem that Nancy has gotten herself into because she has plenty of opportunities very early on to simply say that she is not who Jack thinks she is. In fact, their first introduction has Jack ramble nervously at her when they meet at the train station and there are plenty of times where Jack stops for breath in which Nancy could stop and correct him. Obviously if this happened there would be no movie and Nancy is trying to be more impulsive in her life so it’s in-keeping with her character, but there isn’t a sense of escalation that is out of Nancy’s control which would prevent her from telling the truth which means this misunderstanding could have very easily been avoided. But, like I said, if Nancy admitted it right off the bat then there would be no movie.
But, thankfully, ‘Man Up‘ actually jettisons the mistaken-identity plot quicker then expected and at the halfway point both Nancy and Jack have to open up to each other through some incredibly humorous confrontations because while Nancy has been lying about who she is, Jack has been doing something similar (though, not to the same extent and he is an innocent-party in this scenario) as he’s been bolstering himself up as a form of denial following a particularly messy divorce. That’s when the escalation that was missing at the beginning of their interactions rears its head and where this case of mistaken identity and the animosity towards each other as a result of that forces the two to confront their insecurities head on.
It’s with this turn-around that demonstrates why Simon Pegg is one of the most underrated actors working today as demonstrated with the surprisingly dramatic third acts to ‘Shaun of the Dead‘ and ‘The World’s End‘. He’s brilliant at making you laugh one minute and making you tear up the next. He’s equally as great in dramatic confrontations as he is at humorous ones and he’s great in this role as an over-compensating, slightly bitter divorcee who is massively rebounding. Also, I won’t spoil when it happens, but one moment actually put a lump in my throat when Simon Pegg’s delivery of a line had his voiced began to crack near the end. Tiny touch. Huge impact.
As for Lake Bell as Nancy (make no mistake, she’s the main character, it was just easier to mention Jack first because of the previous seque), myself and Lake Bell got off on the wrong foot with 2013’s ‘In A World…‘ (which, in short, came across like a showcase of Lake Bell’s vocal range as opposed to an actual movie) but ‘Man Up‘ shows her in a much more positive light as she has a great gift for comedic timing, having a fierce motor-mouth when it comes to monologues and just shines with almost everyone she is paired up with on screen. Also, despite being an American actor, Lake Bell nails the British accent.
There are some decent supporting performances with the stand-outs being Ken Stott as Nancy’s dad who has a lot of natural warmth and charisma on-screen and Ophelia Lovibond as the women that Jack was SUPPOSED to meet for his blind-date playing an appropriately stereotypical version of the “manic-pixie dreamgirl” that the movie deliberately seeks to subvert. But the supporting MVP easily goes to Rory Kinnear as Sean; a former stalker of Nancy. Rory Kinnear has been a wonderful supporting player in many smaller UK-based films, but here he’s playing 100% against type as an obsessive, neurotic, mentally unhinged man-child. While his re-introduction in the narrative towards the end felt like a way to artificially extend the runtime (‘Man Up‘ clocks in at a meagre 88 minutes so it’s kinda understandable) he is hysterically funny regardless.
And ‘Man Up‘ is a really funny film in general. Lake Bell and Simon Pegg have great chemistry, the dialogue has lots of British wit and is very fast-paced and suited to the actors involved and there are even many jokes interspersed with character-moments which makes ‘Man Up‘ a smart romantic-comedy with stakes that you care about while also being entertained. Towards the end of the movie, I wanted these two to get together, or at the very least continue to be friends after this blind-date was over as they bring out the best in each other.
‘Man Up‘ is directed by Ben Palmer who did a terrific job bring ‘The Inbetweeners‘ to the big screen twice by using international locations to justify the theatrical release. On the flip-side, ‘Man Up‘ does feel like a high-end TV movie. I know it’s low budget, but there aren’t many directorial choices which would justify a big-screen experience. However due to the quality of the story-telling ‘Man Up‘ would be an essential rental or DVD purchase once it hits home media if you’re a fan of the genre. But it’s still a good looking film, though Dickon Hinchliffe’s music doesn’t leave much of an impression and I don’t remember much of the music in general outside of the occasional contemporary licensed track.
‘Man Up‘ is a strong romantic-comedy which is given a lot of creative freedom thanks to its 15 certificate and has a great pairing with Lake Bell and Simon Pegg. It’s structurally sound, consistently funny and has some interesting things to say about relationships in the modern-day, even though the short run-time prevents these ideas becoming fully-formed. It’s not a game-changer, but I whole-heartedly recommend ‘Man Up‘ for a DVD purchase if you want a fun time, or a romance movie where you actually care about the personal stakes of its equally damaged and dynamic protagonists.
I give ‘Man Up‘ 3 and a half stars out of 5.
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Posted In: 2015 Reviews Current Reviews Reviews
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Posted: 17th Jun 15