From the uncomfortable introduction through to the uneasy small talk, there are few things more awkward than the first minutes of a blind date. Between the probing questions and exaggerated answers, no-one is quite who they say they are in those difficult opening moments but you’d hope that at least their name isn’t a complete fabrication. Here lies the basic premise of Man Up, where a mix-up at London Waterloo throws Nancy (Lake Bell) into a duplicitous date with Jack (Simon Pegg), and it might just be the best British rom-com in recent history.
Bell and Pegg work together with an unsurprising harmony from such seasoned comedic veterans, both infinitely likeable as individuals already but even more so when playing such “real” roles. The beauty of Man Up’s main characters is that they feel fully genuine rather than falling into typical Hollywood stereotypes. Nancy is negative and apathetic after years of lonely single life in her mid-thirties, Jack is upbeat and optimistic in face of a recent divorce. They share a certain chemistry despite their emotional contrast, bouncing off of each other’s shared love of late-80s and early-90s cinema. Pegg’s well known ability of encapsulating the sensitive joker is on full display and Lake Bell is thoroughly convincing as a reclusive British singleton (you wouldn’t know it from her near-perfect accent but she’s actually born & bred American).
While the romantic element is all present and correct, the comedic half of the formula is equally well played. Director Ben Palmer is no stranger to the British comedy scene, his experience with The Inbetweeners (directing two series and the successful, first movie adaptation) is clearly recognisable as he revels in public embarrassment and elongated pauses in awkward conversations. Over the suitably compact run-time (a mere 88-minutes from start to finish), there are more than enough big laughs thrown on top of the fun and jokey atmosphere, particularly when Rory Kinnear takes centre stage as an old friend who threatens to expose Nancy’s deceitful secret.
The narrative retains a sweet and endearing sense throughout, occasionally veering a little too close to the schmaltzy self-help books that it mocks but never plummeting into sickly Richard Curtis mush. Man Up is nowhere near groundbreaking but stands as an efficient example of how to execute a compact and entertaining rom-com. Pegg and Bell combine to create a near-perfect date night movie with enough feel-good fun for both halves of the couple.
★ ★ ★ ½
Man Up is on wide release in UK Cinemas now.