Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Ben Palmer
Stars: Lake Bell, Simon Pegg, Rory Kinnear, Sharon Horgan, Ophelia Lovibond, Olivia Williams, Harriet Walter, Ken Stott, Stephen Campbell Moore, Henry Lloyd-Hughes.
There have been a lot of romantic comedies hitting our screens of late, and unfortunately most of them are either too formulaic, mean spirited or too raunchy. Which is why Man Up proves to be a nice surprise as it brings a fresh new take on the tired formula. The lively, witty and fast paced script is the first feature script written by Tess Morris, who plays with the usual tropes of the genre. Morris has been inspired by the likes of Richard Curtis, Nancy Meyers and the late Nora Ephron, who have given us some of the better romcoms of the past couple of decades.
34-year-old Nancy (played by American actress Lake Bell, from In A World, etc) is something of a cynic and self-professed loser when it comes to love and she has been unable to find a suitable match despite several blind dates arranged by her friends. Her well meaning friends and family keep encouraging her to “put herself out there” to meet her Mr Right.
She is on her way back to London where she is suppose to deliver the speech at a party to celebrate her parents’ 40th wedding anniversary. However a chance meeting with Jessica (Ophelia Lovibond) on a train changes her life. Jessica leaves Nancy a copy of her self help book, which leads to a case of mistaken identity under the clocks at the railway station when she meets Jack (Shaun Of The Dead‘s Simon Pegg), a 40-year-old divorcee who is supposed to be meeting Jessica on a blind date. The book was the means by which he would recognise Janice, who is supposedly a 24-year-old triathlete and budding entrepreneur. Nancy and Jack click and hit it off, sharing some of the same interests and having a great time. As the night wears on though Nancy becomes conflicted – should she ruin it all by confessing to her deception or keep quiet and just go with the flow?
At a bowling alley though the deception is revealed courtesy of Sean (Rory Kinnear, from the Bond films Skyfall and the upcoming Spectre), a creepy former school friend who has a rather unhealthy obsession with Nancy. His behaviour is inappropriate, borderline creepy and verges on stalking. From there the night descends into chaos, with some laugh out loud moments mixed with some genuinely tender moments.
Director Ben Palmer (The Inbetweeners Movie, etc) keeps things moving at a fast pave throughout, as most of the events take place during the course of one fairly hectic twenty four hour period. Palmer dials back the icky raunchy factor of his earlier film for some genuine laughs. And Palmer and his cinematographer Andrew Dunn (Crazy Stupid Love, etc) make great use of some London riverside walks and streetscapes to add texture to the film.
Morris’ script is honest and funny, with dialogue that rings true. She effectively captures some of those awkward moments, uncomfortable questions and silences that are part of that first encounter with a stranger, especially in an early sequence when Nancy meets a man at an engagement party. And there is a comically tense and awkward scene in a bar where Jack meets his cold and aloof ex-wife (Olivia Williams) and her new lover.
The film gets by on the strength of the chemistry and genuine rapport that develops between Pegg and Bell. Pegg has been off his game recently with disappointing films like Hector And The Search For Happiness, but here he goes someway towards restoring credibility with a nicely understated performance that plays to his strengths. Bell brings a perky quality and freshness to her performance as Nancy, a wall flower who takes a chance with Jack. She is not the usual ditzy heroine of many a romcom, but has intelligence and strength. And she also handles the more slapstick physical comedy well too. Kinnear brings a creepy quality to his performance as the sleazy psychotic Sean, a role he plays with undisguised relish, and he almost steals the movie. However, his character could also prove to be a turn off for many.
Man Up is a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining romantic comedy that should appeal to audiences of either gender. Pity about the awful title though!