The romantic-comedy has become something of a poison chalice in contemporary cinema, with filmmakers shying away from it, and with good reason – they’re rarely of a high quality nowadays, and there doesn’t seem to be a demand for them in the same way that there used to be. But it doesn’t need to be like that, and though ‘rom-com’ may seem like a dirty word in cinema, some of the finest features ever made fall into this genre, such as Annie Hall or When Harry Met Sally. But Ben Palmer’s Man Up is not quite in that same bracket, and is far too mawkish in its approach. “You’re like an emotional jigsaw, you just need to find the corners” is a genuine line in this Tess Morris screenplay. Cynical filmgoers – expect to remain cynical.
Lake Bell stars as Nancy, a thirtysomething, single woman who needs something new, and exciting in her life. Her countless blind dates are not working out, but when she inadvertently infiltrates somebody else’s – when caught at Waterloo station, standing directly under the clock, clutching a self-help book – it’s those very same instructions that Jack (Simon Pegg) is following, accidentally mistaking Nancy for his supposed date. Rather than admit there’s been a case of mistaken identity, Nancy plays along, and pretends to be somebody she’s not – and when she realises there’s a genuine spark between the pair of them, the truth seems like a rather challenging issue to confront, with the potential to completely ruin everything that she and Jack seem to share.
Man Up is far too sincere when it needs to be more irreverent, more sarcastic and tongue-in-cheek in its approach. You’d be forgiven for expecting that to be the case, given Pegg and Bell lead this cast – but considering the former’s poor choice of films of late, it’s sadly not come as too much of a surprise, as this follows on from where Hector and the Search for Happiness and A Fantastic Fear of Everything finished off. The portrayal of London is also not authentic enough, it being a film that feels like it’s got one eye on the US market, compromising the narrative in the process. Though that being said, Man Up is undoubtedly an undemanding watch, and if it catches you in the right frame of mind, there is fun to be had here – as while it’s to the film’s detriment at times, the earnest, well-meaning approach is endearing in parts.
Bell turns in a brilliant performance too, and her London accent is completely faultless. However this feels like an odd career move for her, as when she directed the excellent In a World…, which was all about subverting type, it’s a shame to see her fall right into it. That picture was about going against the grain, and for want of more creative, female voices in the entertainment industry – and while it’s great that is the case with this endeavour, written by a woman of course, it’s all-too-generic nature undermines any sense of innovation.