Whenever a romantic comedy seeks out to try to rewrite the rules of the genre, one of two things happens. Either the filmmakers are able to subvert what you expect from a rom com, or they can’t and you wind up being all the more dissatisfied. Luckily, by not going too far in the direction of subversion, Man Up is able to capably put a spin on the chance meeting sub genre. Mostly, director Ben Palmer and writer Tess Morris seek to balance comedy and romance in a way that doesn’t feel shoehorned, and that’s one of the reasons why Man Up works. The other main reason is that stars Lake Bell and Simon Pegg have an almost unbelievable amount of chemistry together in the film, making for a couple that’s worth following. You buy them as both a comedy pairing as well as a romantic one, that’s half the battle. Sure, the machinations of being a crowd pleasing rom com do come into play towards the end, but for the most part it’s handled in a clever enough way to work. You don’t want to go into this one expecting a movie that will reinvent the wheel, but it’s a definite small scale success. Man Up is a pleasing little flick that’s well worth giving a shot to, especially if you like new spins put on fairly old formulas.
Nancy (Bell) has more or less accepted being perpetually single, even if her family and friends have not. In her mid 30’s and with no prospects, she resists being set up, almost to the point of it being a phobia. While riding the train to the anniversary part of her parents (Ken Stott and Harriet Walter), she’s chatted up by a woman named Jessica (Ophelia Lovibond) who is obsessed with a self help book. She wants to give it to Nancy, especially since it’s helped Jessica, who is about to go on a blind date. Nancy doesn’t want the book in the slightest, but winds up with it anyway, which leads to a chance encounter with, you guessed it, the guy Jessica was supposed to meet. That would be Jack (Pegg), who is a fan of the book as well. Impulsively, Nancy pretends to be Jessica and they begin a fairly promising date. They have a ton in common, even though they never would have met without the deception. Then, at about the halfway point, an encounter with former classmate Sean (Rory Kinnear) leads things to get out in the open. This is when things would go in one direction with most rom coms, but this is a whole other ballgame.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that the chemistry between Lake Bell and Simon Pegg have some of the best romantic comedy chemistry of the year. They’re both effective on their own, especially with some of their off the cuff remarks (Bell’s venom towards younger women is particularly amusing), but together they make a terrific pair. By far, the best sequence is when they run into Jack’s ex wife (Olivia Williams, solidly buttoned up) and go off on a riff about their white hot sex life. They take strong writing and still manage to elevate the material. Bell (sporting an English accent) and Pegg are the main highlights here, though Rory Kinnear does steal his scenes as a complete loser obsessed with Nancy. In addition to the aforementioned Williams as well as Ophelia Lovibond, Ken Stott, and Harriet Walter, the supporting cast includes Sharon Horgan, Henry Lloyd-Hughes, and more. Again though, it’s pretty much all about Bell and Pegg, who make for a great romantic comedy couple.
Director Ben Palmer and scribe Tess Morris are well versed in romantic comedies, which comes off in how they play with plot here. Palmer previously directed The Inbetweeners Movie and Morris has a writing credit on The Love Punch, but this will work much more effectively as a calling card. Man Up legitimately works as a romantic comedy, but it also adds in these little knowing winks. Whenever something cliched happens, it’s done with the acknowledgement that they know this would be done more earnestly in another film. This movie is just as confident in its humor as its heart, and that’s why it ends up succeeding in the end.
Overall, Man Up isn’t a rom com classic or anything of the sort, but it is very amusing, easy to like, and just different enough to set itself apart from the pack. If you like Bell or Pegg on their own, you’ll really like them together here, mark my words. Give this one a shot whether you’re looking for a romantic or a comedic tale, as it’s capable in both regards, in particular if you want a slightly fresh spin. Man Up is a rom com well worth your time…
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!