Man Up DVD Review

One wants to love Man Up – the characters are well-drawn and played with aplomb by wholly likeable actors – but the script doesn’t do them any favours. Lake Bell (In a World…, No Strings Attached, Boston Legal) is Nancy, a perpetually single thirtysomething who watches her friends and family pair up while she drinks too much, sassily quotes movies and fails miserably when fixed up with men – in an opening scene she babbles to a man she’s just met about wee in a way that’s just not funny.

On her way to her parents’ 40th wedding anniversary she meets a cringe-inducingly irritating young woman named Jessica (Ophelia Lovibond) on the train who sings the praises of a self-help book, Six Billion People and You (“It was an international bestseller!” “So was The Da Vinci Code.” “Another excellent book!”). It transpires that she is on her way to meet a blind date under the clock at Waterloo Station, and through a series of well-worn clichés, Nancy is mistaken for Jessica by Jack (Simon Pegg).

So far, so Meet Cute. They wander the South Bank of the Thames, chatting amicably as if they are in the first half-hour of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset (alas, they are not). The plot unfolds predictably and, while entertaining, just doesn’t live up to the promise of its characters. Apart from a well-done obligatory dance bit performed to Duran Duran’s “The Reflex”, there are nowhere near enough laughs, and the ending, employing Rory Kinnear as a character so awful it’s a miracle he’s not been locked up, drags every cliché available on to the screen and then fails to do anything clever with it.

Man Up does have its charms. If John Hughes was still writing for Molly Ringwald, John Cusack and Judd Nelson nowadays, about being single second time around, post-divorce, even more cynical in their 30s or 40s than their Breakfast Club and Say Anything-era personae were in their teens, he might have written this – and it would have been heaps better.

In this post-John Hughes world, even Cameron Crowe has grown up. Even Cusack has made indelible errors: for every Grosse Point Blank there’s been a The Raven. For every 1408, Identity, Love & Mercy, there’s been a 2012. And if John Cusack has a natural successor, it is the wonderful Simon Pegg– a geekier, more genre-savvy, more self-aware Everyfanboy cut from similar cloth.

The charm in Man Up, however, flows almost entirely from Lake Bell. If there is a successor who can take on the mantles of both Ringwald and Cusack – who can be funny and smart and sexy and still take a pratfall and make us cringe on her behalf, it’s she (or, in a pinch, Anna Kendrick). Her accent is near-flawless and her performance delightful.

But it’s not enough to make a truly good film. It’s sweet, but it’s been seen before, done far better: Simon Pegg has been doing this for 20 years – that sly, self-referential, post-post-modern comedy that drips with 80s and 90s nostalgia, mocking the era while harking back to it with genuine affection – and has done it far better, with greater originality. The bits that remind us of John Hughes or Linklater are unnecessary and merely distract the audience by reminding us of better movies.

At a tight 84 minutes, Man Up nevertheless drags in places and involves needless, pointless scenes that neither entertain nor advance the plot. The supporting cast, which includes Ken Stott and the luminous Harriet Walter as Nancy’s parents, is wasted beyond forgiveness. Olivia Williams as Jack’s ex-wife is a cardboard bitch with “plot device” stamped on her forehead. Rory Kinnear should have been a funnier, far more interesting villain, but instead he is reduced to a walking sexual harassment case in really ghastly pants.

I want a do-over. I’d like to see these characters again, for longer, but in a different, more carefully crafted movie.

About The Author

Katherine hails from South Africa, where she subsidised her uncompleted Masters in Film Studies by trying to persuade students there was more to film than the oeuvre of Steven Spielberg. Her portfolio of film criticism includes film column “The Maguffin” for iafrica.com (where the controversial “What Could a Nice Girl Like Me Have Against Forrest Gump?” caused quite a stir), a year as DVD Review editor for FHM and a lifetime of utter, unrelenting geekdom. Passionate about film in its many forms, she has a particular fondness for the Marx Brothers and David Cronenberg, and a DVD collection that takes up half her lounge.

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