Finding love in a hopeless chase
The romantic comedy goes back to basics in Man Up, a sweet, funny and charming tale of boy-meets-wrong-girl-but-doesn’t-realise-it, filmed on location in London.
Directed at a brisk pace by Ben Palmer, who helmed The Inbetweeners Movie, this contrived tale of mistaken identity strips away most of the gross-out interludes that have become de rigueur for the genre.
New York City-born writer and actress Lake Bell sports a flawless English accent as the hapless heroine, who bumbles and dithers in a Bridget Jones style minus the incessant self-doubt and criticism.
She sparks a lively on-screen partnership with Simon Pegg, so we root for their unlikely lovebirds to overcome the various obstacles that screenwriter Tess Morris flings in their path.
These include Rory Kinnear as a lecherous old school mate, who threatens to tell tales out of class about Bell’s protagonist unless she provides him with impromptu sexual favours.
It’s the closest Morris comes to peddling gratuitous muckiness.
The film opens with thirty-something singleton Nancy (Bell) trying to convince herself to “be more deviant... engage with life”.
She retreats from a party full of potential suitors to spend the evening alone in a hotel room.
“Put yourself out there,” suggests her happily partnered sister, Elaine (Sharon Horgan). “Cook more, understand the Israeli Palestine conflict...”
On a train to London, Nancy meets a girl called Jessica (Ophelia Lovibond), who is meeting a blind date under the station clock at Waterloo station.
Jessica will recognise her beau because they will both be holding copies of the bestselling self-help book Six Billion People And You, which is full of inspiring aphorisms including: “Your negative thoughts are ruining your life and everyone else.”
When the train pulls into the station, Nancy discovers Jessica has left her copy behind and races after her, only to cross paths with the blind date, Jack (Simon Pegg), under the clock.
On the spur of the moment, Nancy decides to pose as Jessica and see where the meeting leads.
Surprisingly, she gets on well with Jack but there are skeletons in both of their closets they would prefer to keep hidden including his icy ex-wife (Olivia Williams) and her new partner (Stephen Campbell-Moore).
Man Up is an unappealing title for a feel-good romp that relies heavily on the leads to carry the film through its occasional lulls.
Screenwriter Morris doesn’t overcomplicate her narrative, juxtaposing Nancy and Jack’s eventful first date with preparations for the 40th anniversary party of her parents (Ken Stott, Harriet Walter), who know all about the ups and downs of married life.
Kinnear sinks his pearly whites into his intentionally garish supporting role with unrestrained vim.
Dialogue is peppered with polished one-liners and Palmer sustains momentum until a suitably grand finale that proves you can’t hurry love, even with GPS tracking.
Lake Bell, Simon Pegg, Rory Kinnear, Ophelia Lovibond, Olivia Williams, Stephen Campbell-Moore, Ken Stott, Harriet Walter, Sharon Horgan. Director: Ben Palmer.
Released: May 29 (UK & Ireland)
Star rating: 6/10