If you are a fan of the kind of films written (and more recently directed by) Richard Curtis, then chances are you’ll enjoy Man Up, an inoffensive but formulaic British rom-com penned by Tess Morris and directed by Ben Palmer (who previously made The Inbetweeners Movie). The screenplay has that mildly-risqué style that has been popular ever since Hugh Grant said a few f-words in Four Weddings And A Funeral, while Man Up‘s London setting and supposedly endearing middle class characters hint that there’s no greater ambition than for the film to attract the same audience that sat through Sliding Doors, Wimbledon, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Notting Hill and Love Actually.
American Lake Bell plays English protagonist Nancy, a writer in her mid-30s who is initially put forward as a kind of permanently-single dating disaster zone (though we later learn that she is actually smart, funny and was in a relationship for most of her 20s). Encouraged by her sister Elaine (Sharon Horgan, whose comedic talents are unfortunately wasted in a straight role) and a well-meaning but prissy stranger on a train (Ophelia Lovibond), Nancy resolves to ‘put herself out there’ and carpe one or two diems lest she remain alone until the end of time. And so she does just that, bumping into Simon Pegg’s divorcee Jack at Waterloo Station soon thereafter and playing along mischievously when he mistakenly assumes that she is supposed to be his blind date. Cue nervy chatter as they travel across London (the South Bank, the Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes, a bar) and lots of fibbing as Nancy attempts to keep up appearances.
Given its strict adherence to genre staples it’ll come as no surprise that the couple hit it off, go through a few ups and downs during the course of the film (which covers the duration of their first evening together) and reconcile at the end in time for a bright-looking future. There are a few laughs to be had along the way, particularly when Jack’s uptight ex (Olivia Coleman) shows up with her new partner (Stephen Campbell Moore), and also with regards to Nancy’s identity theft and the whole dating merry-go-round, but perhaps not enough for Man Up to be cherished in the long run by the masses. However, like the more successful British films of recent years, the mix of gentle ribbing (albeit with the occasional blowjob joke thrown in) and stuttery self-deprecation appears to be tailored with the grey pound in mind, and indeed most of the older folk in the screening I attended were regularly chuckling away.
Typically the cast is fleshed out with one or two more eccentric characters, and here both Ken Stott and Rory Kinnear try to make the most of their time on screen as Nancy’s boozy father and a former-classmate-turned-stalker respectively. In terms of the two leads Bell is likeable enough as the sarcastic Nancy, and her English accent is perfect, while Pegg delivers another nervy geek (albeit with a slightly-damaged, middle-aged spin). The question is whether we really need to see yet another rom-com in which the woman breaks the fourth wall while supposedly sitting in front of a mirror, the declaration of love at the end takes place in front of a big crowd of people and all of the roguish older characters appear to have wandered over from the set of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Personally I don’t think we do, but obviously this kind of film is usually profitable, is generally liked by audiences, and no doubt we can expect more long after this effort has found a more natural home on DVD and TV. Man Up has a few witty moments, which are executed professionally, but it never tries to do anything other than replicate the lighthearted fun of successful, recent British comedies, and as such I don’t feel too enthusiastic about it.
Directed by: Ben Palmer.
Written by: Tess Morris.
Starring: Lake Bell, Simon Pegg, Rory Kinnear, Ophelia Lovibond, Ken Stott, Sharon Horgan, Harriet Walter.
Cinematography: Andrew Dunn.
Editing: Paul Machliss.
Music: Dickon Hinchlciffe, Various.
Running Time: 88 minutes.