Lake Bell and Simon Pegg make for a charming and eccentric couple in this sweet but formulaic stab at the rom-com genre.
Continuing a proud tradition of snarky British romantic comedies lead by luckless in love thirty-somethings, Man Up pairs nerd icon Simon Pegg with Lake Bell as two strangers flung together by a case of mistaken identity. Scheduled to begin a blind date underneath the clock in Waterloo Station, Jack (Pegg) confuses Nancy (Bell) for his rightful partner, and with Nancy deciding to not tell him otherwise, the two set off on an evening of merriment with boozing and ten-pin bowling on London’s South Bank.
If the set-up sounds silly, don’t despair - it isn’t long before all pretence is discarded with and we’re actually left with the much more amusing situation where Jack and Nancy must continue to uphold the lie in order to spite others, particularly Jack’s soon-to-be ex-wife Hilary (Olivia Williams). This mostly works because of the cheeky chemistry that Pegg and Bell share; the aforementioned scene where they team-up to outdo Elaine is brilliant, as is the typical ‘meet-cute’ where they fumble their way though the pleasantries and skip straight to quoting their favourite lines from Silence of the Lambs and Wall Street.
Whilst their characters are drawn pretty broadly – Jack’s a hopelessly romantic doofus, Nancy’s a downtrodden cynic who has been burnt too many times – the lead couple do everything they can to elevate this film above sappy rom-com mediocrity and into snappier, more referential territory. Their dynamic works well, with Bell emerging as a shining beacon of deadpan humour alongside Pegg’s more restrained straight man shtick. Her energetic performance brightens every scene, and electrifies every line of dialogue.
The plot actually takes place over the course of a single night, a creative choice I wasn’t expecting or totally convinced by. Not only does it necessitate the film to lean heavily on drippy rom-com troupes like ‘love at first sight’, it also means the deep, meaningful dialogue that Jack and Nancy share is oddly reflective for two strangers – in one scene, Nancy describes Jack as a ‘puzzle that needs to be put back together – you’ve just got to start with the edges and then find the blue bits’, a line I found ludicrously deep considering she’d just met the bloke.
The supporting cast aren’t much to shout about – there are a handful of tangents that focus on Nancy’s sister (Sharon Horgan) and her parents (Ken Stott, Harriet Walter), but this felt superfluous. Rory Kinnear’s role is good for one or two gags in the opening half, but only comes across as irritating and slightly creepy as the joke starts to wear thin later on.
At barely 90 minutes, the film breezes by and feels like more of an extended sitcom pilot than a feature length film at times; the cartoonish characters (Kinnear’s borderline sex pest Sean) and clumsy encounters (a bathroom sexual escapade gone wrong) feel decidedly Fawlty Towers and maintain that quirky irreverence which British comedy is so famous for.
The Verdict: 6.5/10
If you’re hoping to find a date movie with a little more polish, then maybe look elsewhere – but for everyone else this sweet yet scatterbrained effort has enough heart and charisma to entertain.
Man Up opens in cinemas across Australia on Thursday November 5.
This review was originally published over at Hooked on Film, a Perth based website where you can find even more new release movie reviews, features, interviews and insight. Click here to check it out.