A cute and cosy UK rom-com with a unique pitch: what if the prospective couple weren't supposed to meet at all?
It’s not often that a rom-com sweeps you off of your feet off-screen rather than on, but Man Up does just that. It’s a refreshing antithesis to the typical British rom-com - there’s no guffawing, stammering charming male lead or a starcrossed couple who just can’t seem to make it work. In fact, the twosome at the centre of Man Up weren’t supposed to meet up at all.
Nancy (Lake Bell, nailing a southern English accent despite hailing from New York) is in something of a rut. Alone and without a serious relationship for four years, the 34-year-old’s notebook is full of scribbles intended to motivate her to be like her older, married sister.
Things take a turn for the curious as she is betrothed a self-help book on a train by Jessica (Ophelia Lovibond) while journeying to her parents’ to mark their 40th wedding anniversary. After disembarking at Waterloo, she is mistaken for Jessica by Jack (Simon Pegg), who was to meet her at the station as a blind date, recognisable only by the book Nancy now parades around in her hands.
What unfolds over Man Up’s jogging-pace runtime is a kooky, warm story of honesty and mid-life rejuvenation as Nancy - posing throughout as Jessica, a supposed 24-year-old triathlete - does what she can to seize life with both hands across the course of a single, extended date.
Pegg and Bell play excellently off of each other as the will-they-wont-they pairing - Jack is assertive, but dishevelled and vulnerable, while Nancy is closed and flawed, but secretly screaming to be heard and loved. Rory Kinnear, too, is well-cast as Nancy’s bewilderingly creepy school-days stalker.
To the credit of writer Tess Morris there’s very little in the way of cheap gags, too often a staple of the British rom-com, save for a race across central London in which Nancy runs, ‘swims’ through a gaggle of hen night revellers and inexplicably borrows a bike so that a joke can be made about her supposed triathleticism.
Much is made of the capital’s tourist-friendly cityscape and less familiar backstreets - and yet the most we see of the Houses of Parliament is a fuzzy, out-of-focus glance beneath a bridge as Jack and Nancy meander along the South Bank. A Wagamama’s sign is given more precedence - a pop-up burger van even moreso. The locations are half the trick in Man Up, bringing an already uniquely plausible concept down to earth with a resounding, everyday thump.