In Man Up, a goofy rom-com premise segues unexpectedly into a dual character study. Nancy Patterson (Lake Bell) is a single, 30-something English woman floundering in the dating pool. On the way to her parents’ fortieth wedding anniversary, she is accidentally mistaken for Jack’s (Simon Pegg) blind date, Jessica (Ophelia Lovibond). Jack is so winningly genial in his introduction that Nancy pretends to be Jessica for the sake of her long staid romantic life. As they barhop across London city, getting to know each other and having a blast while doing so, Nancy is eventually forced to confess her deception when they run into her troublesome old school mate (Rory Kinnear).
Bell is fantastic as the flawed, contradictory (at times brutally honest and outgoing and at others mute and inert), and pessimistic Nancy, impressively sustaining a English accent throughout the film. She gets two introspective scenes in front of a mirror where she gives herself pep talks and manages to avoid seeming too clichéd or unnatural in those moments. Pegg (one of my favourite comedic actors who can also totally deliver dramatic roles) is perfect as Jack, the 40-year-old romantic in the middle of a chilly divorce and mid-life crisis. He effortlessly pulls off emotional and light-hearted moments and saves his character from seeming too corny with his earnestness. Bell and Pegg also have great chemistry, the sort that doesn’t seem like a Hollywood fantasy but is somehow ineffably natural and real due to their quirks and flaws.
However, the lack of momentum for a huge part of Man Up as well as the unnecessary jumps to minor, family member characters (who only exist to be happily married and to talk about how Nancy is acting out-of-character) means that the movie falls short of its two brilliant leads. Other minor characters are complete misfires, namely Kinnear’s hilariously creepy but unrealistic stalker character, Sean, and Jack’s boring ex and her new man, played by Olivia Williams and Stephen Campbell Moore. Alas, the film also fails to commit to its dramatic or comedic elements, vacillating awkwardly between the two. Still, Man Up is a fresh but imperfect little rom-com that just about works, thanks to two extremely likeable leads.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 black Moleskine notebooks