Man Up is a British romantic comedy. And that statement is either going to fill you with joy or dread depending on how you feel about all things Richard Curtis. Because since the likes of Four Weddings And A Funeral and Notting Hill most British comedies tend to be of the romantic ilk and they tend to be heavily influenced by Curtis’ quintessentially British charm. So does Man Up do what it says on the tin or fall into the realms of predictability?
On her way to her parent’s 40th wedding anniversary Nancy (Lake Bell), a cynically single girl, meets a horribly optimistic Jessica (Ophelia Lovibond) who happens to be on her way to a blind date. Upon arriving at Waterloo station Nancy meets Jessica’s blind-date Jack (Simon Pegg) and, in a moment of spontaneity, pretends to be Jessica. So off Jack and Nancy, pretending to be Jessica, trot into the London night on their date where they will learn a lot about, dating, each other and, maybe, even more about themselves and what they’re really looking for in life.
On paper it would be easy to jump to conclusions about what Man Up is. Indeed if you’ve seen the trailer or the posters it doesn’t seem to stand out from the run-of-the-mill romantic comedies that Britain spews out every year. You know the type; kooky girl meets tricky man, they seem to have spark but in a hostile, bickering, endlessly cute kind of way only for them to go all When Harry Met Sally and realise their love for each other. And in many ways that is exactly what Man Up is, but with one key difference; Tess Morris’ script is a keen and brilliantly funny observation on the mid-to-late-30s generation trying to find love in a digital age.
Nancy is like so many girls you know; dry, cynical and always rolling her eyes at the very notion of romance. Lake Bell, whose British accent is impeccable, brings her to brilliant life, a half doesn’t care anymore wrapped up in a ball of hidden hurt and insecurities. It’s another example of Bell glowing radiantly on screen with a warm, affectionate and comically perfect performance. Pegg who normally has a degree of smugness in this sort of role is wonderfully likable. At first he talks too much, barely letting Nancy get a word in edge-ways, but it’s all part of his desperation to make an impact. Later on Pegg’s performance as the deeply hurt and emotional Jack brings the film a level of investment that would have been sorely lacking in another actors hands.
Towards the end it does descend in to the predictable formula, the one where the guy runs around to a pop-song, desperate to find the girl of his dreams. But it keeps it all together having put in the legwork to create genuinely likable and believable characters.
With a tight timeframe Man Up manages to stick to convention but brings with it a sense of modern romance and everything that entails. A date movie with a difference and one all the stronger for it.