Man Up

Review by Chris Blohm @chrisblohm

Directed by

Ben Palmer

Starring

Lake Bell Rory Kinnear Simon Pegg

Anticipation.

A fun premise and a likeable cast.

Enjoyment.

Funny in parts, but very televisual. Lake Bell elevates everything.

In Retrospect.

A decent stab at a diluted genre.

Lake Bell trounces the comic competition in this frisky screwball which feels a little too much like a TV sitcom.

What hell hath Richard Curtis wrought? As the perennial chronicler of middle-class relationship trauma, the Blackadder scribe has practically defined the British rom-com since unleashing his masterpiece, Four Weddings and a Funeral, upon defenceless cinema-goers back in 1994. Since then, countless pretenders have sought to dethrone Curtis and lay claim to his unduly polite, slightly fumbling, floppy fringed crown. Films like Tamara Drewe, Chalet Girl, or last year’s distinctly dislikable Love, Rosie, they came and went like awkward kisses in the rain.

Surely the time has come for the next big thing in homegrown sentimentalism to take on the Comic Relief guru at his own game and win? Man Up doesn’t quite capture Curtis’ castle, but it makes a half decent attempt of storming the ramparts. The ridiculously amiable Lake Bell (rocking a Brit accent like a natural) plays a journalist called Nancy, a chronic singleton on the verge of an emotional cataclysm. Fate intervenes, and while on the train to her parents’ fortieth wedding anniversary, Nancy gets caught in an unwelcome conversation with a prissy, self-help loving stranger on the way to a blind date.

Sure enough, upon arrival at Waterloo Station, Nancy finds herself sharing a confusing encounter with the stranger’s presumed hook-up, a marketing chump called Jack (Simon Pegg). Seizing the opportunity, Nancy assumes a brand new identity and ends up taking out Jack for herself. There’s only one problem: he may well be perfect. Nocturnal Date Night-meets-After Hours shenanigans ensue.

This is the latest big screen offering by director Ben Palmer, whose stock-in-trade is the TV sitcom. The screenplay is by sitcom writer Tess Morris. There was once an exceptionally short-lived US sitcom with the exact same title. This isn’t that, thank goodness, but that doesn’t stop Man Up looking, sounding and feeling like a sitcom at times. Specifically, it feels like an extended Christmas special, though not necessarily in a bad way. So while the film is a very nuts-and-bolts affair for a significant chunk of its breezy running time, a healthy smattering of decent jokes, identifiable characters, and winning performances from Bell and Pegg significantly enhance its chances. Oh, and there’s even a little bit of smut, too, mostly at the hands of Rory Kinnear, one of the best stage actors in the country, here reduced to playing the story’s token sleazeball.

For Pegg, this represents a comeback of sorts, following a string of duds which bottomed-out with the dire smarm aria, Hector and the Search for Happiness. He’s absolutely fine here, but the movie hangs on Bell, and she wears it tremendously. A gloriously charismatic, funny, and warm presence, it’s a treat to see Bell headline a picture that provides ample opportunity to charm. Man Up isn’t perfect, but that’s a minor detail when you’re dealing with major talent. It could be love, actually.

Published 28 May 2015

Anticipation.

A fun premise and a likeable cast.

Enjoyment.

Funny in parts, but very televisual. Lake Bell elevates everything.

In Retrospect.

A decent stab at a diluted genre.

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