Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars
Have you ever been watching a romantic comedy and right as your arguing couple is about to explain What’s Going On(?!) they just…don’t? For some reason explaining a simple misunderstanding like adults just doesn’t happen? Ever wish those lovers would man up, quit moping around and keep the movie going already? Blissfully Ben Palmer’s refreshing Man Up does just that. It takes what could have been a very contrived setup and spins it into a fantastically wild night out in London with stars Lake Bell and Simon Pegg.
Socially awkward Nancy (Bell) is on a train to her parents’ 40th Anniversary party looking a bit worse for wear after a failed arranged date the previous night. Lonely and tired, she’s confronted by the perky Jessica (Ophelia Lovibond, the expolsive Carina of Guardians of the Galaxy) who foists a fad self help book onto Nancy. As it turns out the book was meant to signal Jessica’s blind date Jack (Pegg) at their Waterloo Station meeting point but before she can replace her copy, he spots Nancy instead. In the spirit of Nancy taking more chances and in the face of the Simon Pegg Charm Offensivetm, she decides to go ahead and be “Jessica” for the evening. It’s quite the setup but Nancy and Jack’s immediate chemistry had me rooting for them despite the inevitable truth coming out. Through a contagiously fun night of drinking and bowling it becomes apparent that the older Nancy was really more suited to the just-divorced Jack than 24-year-old Jessica.
There’s a wonderful balance in Palmer’s film between over the top humor and raw emotional moments from these two damaged lovebirds and Bell and Pegg are more than capable of selling both extremes. A skill that’s cleverly emphasized by Palmer giving Jack an emotional breakdown during a cheesy club dance. When the not-Jessica reveal finally comes to the forefront, sure they leads handle it for the bizarre decision that it was but they really sort of barrel through it to present a united front against Jack’s exe appearing (Olivia Williams) in the midst of it all. Bigger fish to fry and all that. In this instance and more Palmer, working from a script by Tess Morris, keeps the pace speedy throughout and offers some written gems like “the tactical puke” that had the audience cracking up.
Compliments too must be paid to Morris for avoiding writing in any shrewish females–not the exes, Nancy’s family, even that spunky Jessica, not an evil caricature among them. I wish I didn’t have to put a special shoutout in this regard but the rarity of women helping other women in romcoms, especially where love triangles are concerned, is usually a major drawback of the genre. And if Man Up culminates in a Grand Romantic Gesture as the genre also demands then it damn well did everything else right to earn it.
Man Up premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 19th 2015 and has additional screenings through the festival’s end on April 26th.