Man Up (2015)

Right Time. Right Place. Wrong Date.

A life-affirming film about taking chances, Man Up — which refers to the act of taking a risk or plainly put, ‘toughening up’ — director Ben Palmer’s surprisingly enjoyable rom-com, might be the perfect date flick (well, if you’re a guy that is), seeing as it focuses more on its ‘com’ opposed to the ‘rom.’ Given its rather ordinary premise — a single woman gets mistaken for a stranger’s blind date — this British charmer succeeds where so many others have failed, thanks to the infectious chemistry and playful repartee between its stars, Simon Pegg, Shaun of the Dead (2004), and Lake Bell, In a World… (2013).

Meet Nancy (Lake Bell), your typical 34-year-old Bridget Jones-type character, who’s sick to death of her well meaning but clueless friends’ matchmaking efforts. Following a disastrous set-up at an engagement party, Nancy chooses to throw in the towel, for good this time, accepting to live a life of solitude, junk food and tequila. Nevertheless, on the way to her parents’ 40th wedding anniversary (where she is due to give a speech), Nancy is wrongly identified as Jack’s (Simon Pegg) blind date, after he spots her standing under the clock at Waterloo station. In spite of this mix-up, Nancy does the unthinkable and decides to simply ‘go with it,’ seeing as her New Year’s resolution was to ‘take more chances.’ Honestly, what could possibly go wrong?

'Yeah ... that was ... a really bad take, huh?'
‘Yeah … that was … a really bad take, huh?’

Okay, while this set up might sound a tad underwhelming, it isn’t long before Nancy’s whole façade is blown sky high and viewers are left with a much more entertaining scenario, one where our protagonists must maintain their masquerade in order to spite others — chiefly Jack’s bitter, soon to be ex-wife Hilary (Olivia Williams) and her new beau Ed (Stephen Campbell Moore) — thus temporarily putting their tentative romance on the back burner. Running at a brisk 88 minutes, Man Up never outstays its welcome either; the film’s narrative essentially takes place over the course of a single day (and night) — a creative decision that I’m usually rather skeptical about. The flick however, breezes along nicely and plays out like an extended pilot for a new BBC sitcom, where laughs come hard and fast thanks to a sharp script by first-time feature writer Tess Morris which explores the modern thirty-something dating landscape and its many pitfalls.

Furthermore, Simon Pegg and Lake Bell share a sizzling on-screen connection, with their flirty one-liners and clever ripostes standing as the flick’s number one virtue. Simon Pegg plays Jack, the typical big-hearted, recent divorcée — a doofus who’s trying to date a girl almost half his age — with Pegg displaying his vulnerability and comedic chops almost effortlessly. In spite of this, American actress Lake Bell is the real revelation here, nailing both her comic timing and British accent — which isn’t much of a surprise after showcasing her formidable voice work in 2013’s In a World… — with Nancy hogging the limelight as the sassy, self-pitying 34-year-old who’s too lazy to take chances.

'This is the best guy I've met to date.'
‘This is the best guy I’ve met to date.’

Then there’s a gleefully manic Rory Kinnear, Skyfall (2012), who steals the entire show as Sean the stalker, a loopy former classmate of Nancy’s who works at Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes and still carries a long harbored torch for Nancy, with Kinnear dialing it up to 11 for his role as the creepy pest — bear in mind, I understand that Kinnear’s abrasive Sean might be a bit too ‘rapey’ or off putting for some. Elsewhere, Ken Stott, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), and Harriet Walter, Atonement (2007), are delightful as Nancy’s parents, Bret and Fran. Special mention also goes out to the perky Ophelia Lovibond, Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), who portrays a chirpy young businesswoman Jessica, whom Nancy encounters on a train and just so happens to be an enthusiastic advocate for a dating-oriented self-help bestseller.

Sleekly directed by Ben Palmer, The Inbetweeners Movie (2011), Man Up sometimes treats ‘singledom’ as if it were a curse whilst embracing a multitude of rom-com clichés — it even ends in one of those corny Richard Curtis moments — yet, this uplifting, honest and good-natured comedy works for the most part thanks to a number of solid performances and an excellent script. While Man Up is about as unchallenging as contemporary cinema gets, it contains enough mushy heart and playful charisma to entertain both genders alike. So, I urge you to ‘man up’ and take a gamble on this saucy little date flick.

3 / 5 – Good

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Man Up is released through Studio Canal Australia