Director: Ben Palmer
Starring: Simon Pegg, Lake Bell, Rory Kinnear, Ophelia Lovibond, Olivia Williams, Ken Stott, Harriett Walters, Sharon Horgan
Written by: Tess Morris
Running Time: 88 mins
Release date: 29th May 2015
Of all the genres out there, the romantic comedy seems to be the hardest one to get right. They are either far too unbelievable and in love themselves for the audience to really care; they sometimes are so caught up in the romance that they forget about the comedy element, or they dream of being like When Harry Met Sally or a Richard Curtis film. Man Up, a new British rom com, has a great cast, a decent premise and moments when you can see it working, yet it lacks laughs and stretches believability to the limits.
Nancy is a thirtysomething singleton who just cannot bring herself to putting herself out there and finding love. On a train journey to her parent’s wedding anniversary party, she meets perky Jessica, on her way to a blind date. Leaving the book that will help her mystery man to recognise her, Nancy chases after her, only to find herself face-to-face with Jack, the blind date. Believing that she is Jessica, Nancy takes her identity and soon the pair hit it off. Nancy has found her perfect man. Only thing is, he thinks she is someone else.
First-time writer Tess Morris and Inbetweeners’ director Ben Palmer manage to capture the awkwardness of that first meeting and the first date quite brilliantly. The nonsensical conversations, painful over-excitement of trying to impress are all there (I know, I’ve been there). It’s all very fresh and refreshing. Where the film struggles is actually finding anything funny about it. There are the odd moment that makes you chuckle but for a film with this must potential and this much talent, it’s somewhat disappointing.
Which is a shame as the two leads, Simon Pegg and American actress Lake Bell, with the best British accent you will hear from an American in a very long time, have obvious chemistry. As Jack and Nancy, they bounce off each other brilliantly, showing this nervous, first date energy with gusto and you long for the pair to make us laugh out loud. Yet the jokes never seem to come. Pegg, who we know is a gifted comedy actor, seems to end up playing this type of character, the Mr. Nice Guy, over and over again, and you yearn for him to break loose and become like his Spaced persona, or like the anarchic characters from the Edgar Wright/Nick Frost/Pegg trilogies.
However, the film is saved by Lake Bell, who, with her rubbery face and superb timing, brings Nancy to life. Even though we have to stretch our believability to the edge that here is a woman who would be all alone and who doesn’t have any confidence, she is warm, charming and utterly engaging. It would be remiss of me if I didn’t say I’d love to see the Pegg/Bell partnership again.
The rest of the cast, the excellent Ken Stott, Harriet Walters and Olivia Williams, all seem somewhat wasted in their minor parts. Rory Kinnear pops up as a creepy ex-school friend of Nancy with more than a passing interest with the woman and Sharon Horgan, as Nancy’s sister, doesn’t even allow her to be comedic but you do question why she is Irish, her father is Scottish and Nancy is English!
If you are after all the clichés that a rom-com throws up: the open speeches of love in front of complete strangers; the embarrassing conversations about sex (although during a scene in which Nancy tells Jack’s ex about their sex life, in comparison to film classifications, she goes from 18 to 15 to PG-13???), they are all here.
I wished I warmed more to Man Up. The talent is all here and in place, and I will never be able to listen to Duran Duran’s The Reflex in the same way again. The romance is there. I just wish it was funnier.