Nancy (Lake Bell) is on her way to a party to celebrate her parent’s wedding anniversary. Unfortunately – or otherwise depending on your point-of-view – she finds herself, through a series of mistaken identities and pure mischance, on a blind date with looser in love Jack (Simon Pegg). However, as fate would have it, Nancy and Jack hit it off, and the evening appears to be going swimmingly until it emerges that Nancy is not quite who she has been claiming to be – a revelation which brings with it predictably disastrous results.
There was a time – during the 1930s and 1940s when Hollywood ruled the romantic comedy roost. Producing endless streams of feel-good, laugh-out-loud movies – which on the face of it appeared innocent, though if you dug a little deeper often pushed innuendo and suggestiveness as close to the edge as was permissible – became their raison d’être. Featuring stars such as Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn in classics like Bringing Up Baby (1938), American studios like RKO had the comedic film market virtually all tied up.
Jump to the modern day and things just aren’t the same, at least where the romantic comedy genre is concerned. Though such modern day icons as Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston have built pretty solid careers out of screwball farces, frequently revolving around some form of romantic mishap or another, they seem to be missing that certain innocent magic which made the timeless hits of the past sparkle: perhaps it’s their overuse of expletive driven sexualisation, but the results often feel as though they fall just the wrong side of risqué.
Which is where the Brits come in. Ever since Richard Curtis penned Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) and the force that was Bridget Jones (2001) came along, British filmmakers appear to have learnt the secret of combining old-school charm with laid back wit to produce genuinely funny and humorous movies which everyone can watch and enjoy. Ok so the language is times close-to-the-bone – which seems a prerequisite for most modern films – and the double-entendres can make that of a Carry On film look subtle, however it’s all done with the actors tongues so firmly in their cheeks that even the worst of it seems acceptable. Maybe it’s the fact that if you place the situations within a British – and in particular London – setting, and have a cast of mostly English actors – Bridget Jones may have been played by an American, but for the purpose of that film Renée Zellweger was an honorary English woman – the result has a special ‘feel’ which goes a long way to helping excuse a multitude of shortcomings.
All of which bring us to Man Up (2015). Let’s overlook the fact that this is virtually director Ben Palmer and writer Tess Morris’ first big screen production: Palmer may have directed The Inbetweeners Movie (2011) whilst Morris contributed writing to the Pierce Brosnan / Emma Thompson comedy Love Punch (2013), but the majority of the rest of their work has been for television. Here they capture the essence of London and life in the metropolis perfectly – using numerous West End locations as the perfect backdrop for the comedy of errors and madcap misunderstandings to play out against. They also manage to instil the proceedings with that indefinable ‘ingredient’ which has made British comedies so appealing and successful in recent times – a sense that love will make everything ok in the end no matter how bad the situation you find yourself in may seem.
It of course helps that a cast headed by favourite Brit boy Pegg and Lake from hit film It’s Complicated (2009) – ok so Lake, like Zellweger, is American, but on this occasion we can excuse her for this – are supported by such well known English stalwarts as Harriet Walter, Ken Stott and Rory Kinnear. Even so the mix comes together just right, resulting in an hour and a half of entertainment which leaves the viewer with a smile instead of the crass aftertaste given by so much edgy and alternative modern humour.
Man Up is unlikely to win many awards. However, as an example of plain old-fashioned, romantic fun, this piece of British whimsy is hard to beat.
Director: Ben Palmer
Writer: Tess Morris
Stars: Simon Pegg, Lake Bell, Rory Kinnear
Runtime: 88 mins
Country: UK, France