Review: Man Up
PLOT: A lonely single women ends up stealing a younger woman’s blind date by accident. Once she does take the risk and spend the day with him, she finds that being herself may be the best thing she could do.
REVIEW: You couldn’t really ask for a much better pairing in a romantic comedy than Lake Bell and Simon Pegg. The two are exceptionally good at being funny, especially when there is a slightly dark edge to it. In their latest, MAN UP, there is something especially pleasing about their shouldn’t have been date come to life. Directed by Ben Palmer, with a script by Tess Morris, this seriocomic feature is a sweet yet bitter tale of finding romance. And one of the most refreshing things about it is that the characters have lived a life. Either in their mid-thirties or early-forties, this is an adult relationship that is mature, yet sparkling with laughs throughout. This is true even when the humor is far from lighthearted.
Lake Bell stars as Nancy. She is sitting in a hotel room debating on going to a party to mingle. Yet her frustration and fear leads her to skip the party and order room service, that is until her sister convinces her to go. Nancy is a cynical girl and when she is on the train heading back the next day, the unfortunately chipper woman named Jessica (Ophelia Lovibond) sitting next to her leaves a self help book for her to read. It is that same book Jessica is using to meet a blind date once she arrives at her destination. Throughly annoyed, Nancy attempts to give Jessica the book back forcefully, but before she can she is approached by a gentleman named Jack (Simon Pegg) who is also carrying the book. Thinking she is Jessica, he introduces himself nervously. Nancy is instantly charmed by him. On a whim, she decides to go out with him and see where the day takes the couple.
Let’s start with Lake Bell. The actress has had a very interesting year. She was terrific in both the shockingly intense NO ESCAPE and she was very funny in Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp. Not surprisingly, she is wonderful here. In fact, she also happens to have one of the best British dialects that you are likely to hear from an American. Nancy is a wonderfully flawed character, and Ms. Bell embraces all of it. At times, she appears without makeup, as she looks at the world with a slightly harsh view. However, she never lets Nancy become too much of a cynic. You can’t help but root for her, because you can tell that there is a whole lot that is good in her. I liked Nancy quite a bit, and that is absolutely key to making a “romcom” work.
It would have been useless to feature a terrific leading lady, and have her co-star be insipid and dull. Thankfully, Simon Pegg is per usual quite fantastic as Jack. The actor is a rare talent that can bring honest to goodness vulnerability to a character. After he runs into his ex-wife Hilary (Olivia Williams), there is a very raunchy bit where Nancy successfully attempts to make her jealous. As funny as this is, it turns to heartbreak for Pegg who is having extremely conflicting emotions. He clearly still has feelings for the woman that left him, and the actor is able to bring a character to his weakest without making it pathetic. After all, what’s a good romance without a little sadness. And it works quite well thanks to the two leads.
The script by Tess Morris may at times feel like your typical romantic drama, yet the writer is able to inject depth into these characters. Along with having great actors in the roles, it helps that the dialogue is actually funny. The humor works because the situation never feels too gimmicky. Credit this to Bell and Pegg, director Palmer, and of course, a charming script that has a particularly honest quality to it. It also helps that this is one of those rare comedies that doesn’t overstay its welcome. At a brisk 88 minutes, it gives audiences everything they need to appreciate the time spent with Nancy and Jack. Is it slightly predictable? Sure it is. But thankfully, the familiarity isn’t terribly unwelcome.
MAN UP is that rare romance fueled comedy that will ably entertain both men and women. It isn't saccharine sweet, and yet it isn’t overtly vulgar and harsh. It is a nice in-between that manages to get a whole lot right. Both Lake Bell and Simon Pegg take this witty script and bring it to life. It also features a scene-stealing performance from Rory Kinnear as a slighly stalkerish old classmate of Nancy. And director Ben Palmer keeps all of the entanglements moving at a very brisk pace. If you are looking for something just a little different and are tired of all the big films competing for Oscar gold, you should check this out. Frankly, after this I want to see these two terrific actors work together again. MAN UP is the kind of romcom you won’t be embarrassed to enjoy.