Last summer, the indie movie Man-Up, starring Simon Pegg and Lake Bell, debuted to modest fanfare, but this Valentine’s Day (or, President’s Day, or any day) it deserves your attention. With a screenplay penned by Tess Morris, and directed by Ben Palmer it’s a romantic comedy that feels as grounded and real as, well, our reality.
Romantic comedies should not be complicated. There are other movies that were designed to scratch that itch, such as Inception, Momento, anything Christopher Nolan does, pretty much. But rom-coms are designed to please and delight viewers. It’s a two-hour escapism reminder that there are happily ever afters out there. Built off our love of Disney’s retelling of the Grimm fairytales as children, rom-coms satiate our desire to know that love and romance isn’t all a crock of lies.
It’s a small film with regards to the story’s timeline — the entire story takes place in the span of less than a few days. But that’s what a good rom-com should be (that, or invest in your audience and make us watch these characters grow up by years — looking at you, When Harry Met Sally.) It doesn’t need to rely on any heavy gimmick, beyond a case of mistaken identity that, once revealed, kicked the movie into high gear and shifts into the real purpose of the film. Otherwise, the movie is grand, filming in about a dozen different locations, including a London Underground station, and manages to pack enough laughs and heart into the story that we are invested in these character’s well-beings.
Regardless of viewer’s relationship status, it is a delightful 88 minutes to enjoy submerged in this world. There’s a heavy dose of cynicism for those who avoid the ooey-gooey love stuff. Man Up! is a rom-com that doesn’t exactly feel like a rom-com. It’s not polished or particularly “shiny,” with the veneer that everyone has enough money, the perfect job, but all they’re missing is the perfect spouse. These characters, Nancy (Bell) and Jack (Pegg) are flawed and make little reservations in hiding them. Both actors maneuver through each scene like a 40-year-old divorcee and 34-year-old who’s life has been better would: with tender awkwardness and trepidation.
Once you watch this movie, I implore you to take a listen to Tess’s episode of the Scriptnotes podcast (November 24, 2015, “Only Haters Hate Rom-Coms.”) She is a fan of the genre she writes in, even if that means having to cop to the less-than-favorable aspects the genre has been saddled with given the mid-00’s Katherine Heigl usurpation of the big-screen roles. (Personally, this writer loves that era of movies, Letters to Juliet, Leap Year, 27 Dresses, 13 Going on 30, Made of Honor, etc.) In the podcast episode, Morris, and the two hosts, work through much of the stigma around rom-coms and the tropes (or beats, depending how you look at it) and they do a much better job of it than we could here today.
People (single people) are urged to not watch romantic comedies this Valentine’s Day. But I don’t see why it’s such a bad thing to know that somewhere, two fictional people are very happy together. Loving this particular genre of films and every other movie out there is not mutually exclusive. All of these films can exist in perfect harmony, they balance each other out. You watch Mad Max when you crave an action-packed, amazing feat of a film, and you watch Man Up! or Serendipity when you want to be reminded that sometimes fate and love and destiny are funny things that have a way of working out.
Bottom line: I was charmed by Man Up, you will be too.
Man Up is available to purchase or rent on iTunes and Amazon.