Written by Tess Masters (The Love Punch, My Family) and directed by In-betweeners maestro Ben Palmer Man Up is a rom-com of a very British sort, where the filmmakers go back to the make-believe England created so brilliantly by Richard Curtis in films like Love Actually and Four Weddings and a Funeral. Despite perhaps a tad too many homages to previous Pegg films, like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, the film does deliver some genuinely brilliant comedic moments.
Rory Kinnear manages to almost steal the film as the creepy, stalker-y former class mate of Bell’s character and Olivia Williams (Sixth Sense, Dollhouse) gives a great cameo performance as the soon-to-be ex of Pegg’s character. There are a number of familiar faces in the film as supporting characters. Sharon Horgan, Ken Stott and Harriet Walker are among the quality performers in the film.
The plot, where a mid 30s singleton female, Nancy (Bell) who is a bit of a wallflower manages to meet Jack (Pegg) a 40 year-old man who was meant to meet a 24 year-old girl on a blind date. As meetings go, this one clicks due to a Hannibal Lector quote from Jack, which Nancy was quoting earlier at the start of the film.
Man Up works for a number of reasons. Firstly, both Bell and Pegg are playing a version of Simon Pegg that exists on screen. This makes their becoming a couple almost inevitable. These two people are essentially the same person, their humor and their mind-sets are the same.
The two meet, the result of mistaken identity, at the train station. Jack thinks that Nancy is Jessica, a 24 year-old triathlete, who his mate Tom set up as a blind date. Nancy inadvertently stands in the right spot holding the book Jack expects to see, a DIY book on living.
Despite the need to reach a bit for suspension of disbelief, the film’s set pieces convince. The “Duran Duran” “Reflex” scene is magic. The couple, arguing on the dance floor, pause dramatically as the opening bars of the song begins. Each takes the position of the “dance” that goes with the song, eyes perfectly straight and focussed. They then begin the dance and continue the disagreement.
Later, in the same club, but at the bar, the drinking scene also resonates with a comic interchange that is perfectly executed. Flaming cocktails have never been so funny.
The bowling scene, which happens earlier than the dance scene, allows both characters to get increasingly raunchy, uninhibited and fun as they consume more alcohol while playing the game. Bell is cute, funny and sexy as hell as she postures and plays.
Rory Kinnear enters the scene as a clerk at the food stand at the “novelty bowling alley” who has obviously had a thing for Nancy since school.
The film follows the two on their journey to true love and the ending, while silly, is memorable and damned funny, and will make the viewer tear up a little. The “homages” were a little obtrusive and in some cases that bit too obvious.
For example, when Nancy races Jack back to the classy wine bar/restaurant there is a scene lifted right from the second of the cornetto trilogies, Hot Fuzz. This is not the only reference to other films in the trilogy, but the whole thing is saved by Bell’s character “strategically puking.” Other instances are not.
Other scenes, which look brilliant, also stretch the realm of believability. The crowd of drunken teens racing the streets of English suburbia in the middle of the night would surely result in police action, but, despite the fact that no one,apparently, notices what looks to be a drunken riot, the scene does work, just.
Man Up succeeds by having two main characters who are quirky, likable, slightly naive and who love all the right things, for example Silence of the Lambs and “Duran Duran.” The role of Jack is one that Pegg could play in his sleep, a slight variation on a character he created initially in Spaced. Bell plays the female version of the Pegg character beautifully and this is what makes the film work so well.
Romantically and comedically the film entertains. (How can any film not be funny when it includes the Bl**job Paradox.) Kinnear helps the proceeds with his creepy/funny classmate and the rude (“F**k the past!”), yet cheesy ending still works and it sums up the film’s appeal in the final moments before the end credits roll.
Man Up is a four out of five stars, there really were a bit too many “homages” in the film and this did cost the movie a full star. It is airing on Netflix at the moment. Head over and get your Simon Pegg fix and fall in love with Lake Bell, but not before admiring what Kinnear brings to the film.