British rom-com checklist:
Taxi cab conversations? (CHECK)
Central London train station? (CHECK)
Crappy British Alcohol? (Red Stripe – CHECK)
Plethora of British TV Actors? (CHECK)
Awkwardly, entertaining British actor? (Simon Pegg – CHECK)
Cutesy, clumsy American actor? (Lake Bell – CHECK)
Bill Nighy? (…)
Man Up may have an inexcusably awful title, but it certainly isn’t such an awful film. It follows the same, traditional path, with all the classic elements, ticking off almost all of the British rom-com checklist, leaving one unsurprised by the uninspired opening third. However, Man Up manages to poke it’s head out of the pack, transforming into a largely enjoyable and surprisingly witty study of human relationships.
In Man Up‘s first third, one is simply annoyed by the clumsy characters of Lake Bell and Simon Pegg. Bell is her own worst enemy, whilst Pegg’s ego is so over-inflated, its a wonder he doesn’t float away. Pegg’s claims that he ‘dabbles’ in art and Bell’s refusal to tell the truth are equally frustrating, and keep the film afloat only through their innate charm.
However, this dynamic soon shifts. The characters develop from mere 2D caricatures into fully-formed three-dimensional human beings. Their bravado and showmanship is replaced by vulnerability and pain, turning the film on its head. The air of awkwardness present in the opening half an hour dissipates into an engaging and enjoyable story of human development.
The film starts poorly but certainly improves. On her Twitter page, the Sunday Times’ film critic Camilla Long branded Man Up “the worst film” she’s seen all year. She obviously didn’t catch The Gunman. Her main criticism of the ‘travesty’ Man Up was she couldn’t see why Lake Bell would “EVER fancy Simon Pegg”, who she brands “a stupid, self-obsessed divorcee”. Whereas this analysis of Pegg’s character is true for the opening quarter of the picture, I don’t believe that it is for the last quarter. His obsession is only skin-deep and a result of his character’s emotional turmoil. He is neither stupid nor self-obsessed when he lets his protective guard down. His later vulnerability shows that he is obnoxious only because of his suffering.
Don’t disregard Man Up as a “slushy, superawkward pile of emotional blah”, as Man Up suitably recovers from its admittedly awkward beginnings. It may follow a heavily-trodden arch, but that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy its light and fluffy finish.