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May 27, 2015
The rom-com is one of the most tired and familiar genres there is. Every beat of the relationship is hardwired into viewers’ brains, from meet-cute to last-ditch declaration of love, so it’s rare to find a film that can turn those familiar ingredients into something new.
Featuring on the Brit List – the UK equivalent of the Black List – in 2011, Man Up seems well-placed to do just that. Writer Tess Morris, armed with a handful of TV credits and some additional writing on The Love Punch, takes the often treacherous step into film with an assured confidence and eccentricity, delivering a script far more complex and intimate than its premise would suggest.
Nancy (Lake Bell) is reluctant to take risks in life, but when chance leaves her mistaken by Jack (Simon Pegg) for his date, an unlikely romance develops. It’s a concept that could easily drag into a prolonged plot with weeks of moping by the leads, but Morris makes the bold move of condensing the action into one long, chaotic night, adding adrenaline to the romance and excusing some of the characters’ lapses of judgment.
The result is a script that very successfully prioritises the rom over the com, at least when it comes to Pegg and Bell. It’s refreshing to see Pegg acting within a less stylised frame, free from the bells and whistles of most notorious collaborator Edgar Wright. Their work together is rightly lauded, but here Pegg shows a more human and sympathetic side, while still bringing in the comedy with his usual skill.
The real revelation is Bell, essentially leading the film solo for the first half hour. She performs with a mixture of wit and charm while still retaining very relatable fears and anxieties. In fact, both characters are superbly written and performed, anchoring the film through its relatively low-key plot. Low-key that is, apart from Rory Kinnear.
He acts as if from another planet, prompting slightly terrified laughter every time he opens his mouth as Nancy’s obsessive stalker of an old classmate. Somehow, magically, he makes an incredibly creepy character really rather sweet. Even when uttering the immortal words, “I know the exact Google Maps co-ordinates” or trying to force-feed Nancy chocolate mousse. He steals every scene he’s in and is comfortably the funniest thing about what is already a very funny film.
There are a few weak moments throughout, for example Sharon Horgan is excellent as usual in a role that amounts to little more than being Nancy’s ticking clock and conscience, but her English accent isn’t fooling anybody. Ben Palmer (The Inbetweeners Movie) directs well, but falls back on lazy montages on a few occasions which add nothing to the plot and kill the momentum in Nancy and Jack’s relationship. Equally, a closing sequence where a horde of teenagers at a house party help out Jack feels indescribably CBBC. Yet even then, Palmer maintains a winning tone that just about makes it work.
Man Up is a joyous and hilarious rom-com showing a lot of promise for relative newcomers Morris, Bell and Palmer while revealing a new side to Simon Pegg. All four are responsible for a complex and believable central relationship that leaves you demanding a happy ending. It’s a rom-com that unusually, feels equally appealing to both genders and one that is unafraid to cannily keep things intimate whilst making best use of big-budget locations.
It’s a film of second chances, loneliness and love, but most of all it’s a film featuring the greatest dance-off argument to the tune of Duran Duran’s ‘The Reflex’ you will ever see. And if that’s not a reason to head down to the cinema I don’t know what is.
Man Up is available on DVD in the UK from September 28th