There used to be a time when the new Simon Pegg production would incite a fervent excitement, and a justified sense of optimism. However, that had sadly been beaten out of us, rather brutally, given the sheer mediocrity of the actor’s recent endeavours, Hector and the Search for Happiness, and A Fantastic Fear of Everything, Unfortunately his latest turn in Ben Palmer’s Man Up, where he stars opposite Lake Bell, is only a very slight improvement, as this mawkish, predictable romantic comedy continues on this rather unfortunate trend, not quite utilising the immensely talented actor’s true potential.
Bell plays Nancy, a thirty-something, single woman, desperately searching for something exciting in life, some spontaneity to counteract the unproductive dates her friends insist on setting her up on. However, upon receiving a self-help book from fellow train passenger Jessica (Ophelia Lovibond), she inadvertently steals the latter’s blind date, not realising that by standing directly under the clock at Waterloo Station while clutching this book, was the planned way of identifying one another. However rather than confess to Pegg’s Jack that she’s not the right person, instead Nancy plays along, forming a bond with this stranger, making the truth an even more difficult prospect to confront. Though with the introduction of former schoolfriend – and now sexual deviant – Sean (Rory Kinnear), her secret is no longer safe.
Given the cast – which also consists of the likes of Olivia Williams, Ken Stott and Harriet Walter, it’s disappointing to not see the more tongue-in-cheek elements ramped up for the more cynical filmgoer. Instead what transpires is a picture that, while affectionate in its display of conventionality, is unbearably sentimental at times. “You’re like an emotional jigsaw, you just need to find the corners” is a genuine line included in Tess Morris’ screenplay, which is a little too sincere at times, where it could perhaps be somewhat more irreverent, or sarcastic.
Nonetheless, Bell turns in an engaging performance as our protagonist. She’s endearingly clumsy and relatable – and her English accent is spot-on. Again, and similarly to Pegg, it’s something of a surprise to see her take on this role. In a World… which she wrote, directed and starred in – is all about being unique, and going against the grain, for there to be a more creative, female voices in entertainment, which makes her appearance in such a generic rom-com even more disappointing. A lot of the flaws to this piece do seem a little pedantic to pick up on too, such as when Nancy is running through film certificates, and says “PG-13” rather than 12a. It seems harsh to point out, but it’s emblematic of a wider issue, of a film that is more concerned with its international market than anything else, and in no way a realistic portrayal of London, nor Londoners for that matter.
That being said, Man Up is playing for an audience who crave something undemanding, and this is undoubtedly comforting in its faithful abiding of the genre tropes. This may not be in any way subversive, but films don’t always have to be, and you can’t deny that Man Up is well-meaning and earnest in its approach. There is always a place for productions of this ilk, it’s just a shame this particular writer isn’t very keen on them.