Ben Palmer, best known for directing episodes of Bo’ Selecta and The Inbetweeners (as well as the first Inbetweeners film), makes a move into mainstream romcoms here with Man Up, starring Lake Bell and Simon Pegg.
It’s a relatively successful move, all things considered, although the film is solid rather than spectacular. It benefits from a very charming performance from Lake Bell (whose US roots are entirely hidden beneath a near-flawless English accent) as Nancy, who inadvertently finds herself on a blind date with Jack (Simon Pegg) after accidently taking the place of Jessica (Ophelia Lovibond) thanks to a misunderstanding involving a book.
As we might expect from the genre, the date actually goes rather well, and Nancy and Jack realise that they actually have quite a lot in common. That is, until Jack finds out Nancy isn’t who she says she is – cue a very familiar final act that cuts out much of the film’s bite in favour of sentimentality.
Bell’s performance lends the film a charm that it would otherwise have lacked. Pegg is pretty good opposite her (channelling romcom-era Hugh Grant, only with a bit more edge) but the problems lie in the script’s inconsistencies. There are jokes that work and jokes that fall flat – it’s testament to Bell that she makes most of them work, but there are some scenes where the laughs just don’t come. That said, once the film settles into its stride, Man Up is pleasant enough company; it’s when it tries to broaden its comic sweep that things tend to fall a little flat. There are a few half-hearted attempts at bawdiness that don’t really work, save for Nancy’s quick-fire monologue on her and Jack’s imagined sexual activity for the benefit of his ex, which is funny, and captures the fast-talking, Woody Allen-esque vibe that the script seems to be going for, but rarely reaches. That monologue is a followed by a nicely choreographed scene in which Nancy and Jack argue while on the dancefloor.
This is a British comedy, so naturally there has to be a token weirdo supporting character. Here that role falls to Rory Kinnear as Sean, a creepy ghost from Nancy’s past. Kinnear does his best, but it isn’t a very funny role, save for a couple of good lines. The best support actually comes from Ken Stott and Harriet Walter as Nancy’s parents – Stott, in particular, gets an unexpectedly moving speech at an anniversary party.
It’s all very gener ic and predictable, but not in an entirely bad way. Man Up has its charms and it’ll raise a smile, perhaps even a chuckle or two, if you’re looking for a no-frills romcom.