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Review: Man Up

Surpisingly, demand for romantic comedies is clearly still unabated. Despite repeated insistences that the subgenre is antiquated, (witness the McConnaisance and the Reeseurgence, as two former practitioners of the rom-com rewrote the narrative as emerging from the muck). So what then, do we make of the near-universal praise for a film such as Trainwreck, which was a fairly conventional take on the genre, or on Leslye Headland’s Sleeping with Other People which found an audience despite adhering to the form.

Then there is Ben Palmer’s Man Up, which coincidentally premiered at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival along with Sleeping with Other People, and now comes to the Magic Lantern Carlton Cinema, along with other select cinemas, about a month and a half after SWOP emerged, and the timing is definitely right. Because despite some awful clichés that the movie does not need to embrace, the film follows the format of a rom-com rather successfully.

The film’s greatest strengths lie in the appeal of its leads, the charming Simon Pegg and Lake Bell, trying on an English accent, (the actress did spend some time in London, and she wears it well), as Nancy, who the conventions of the genre dictate that she is considered an old maid at the age of 34, (of course, Pegg’s age is a not an issue). Despite hewing to the form, Nancy is certainly an interesting character, able to quote The Silence of the Lambs, and inspired by her sister, making lists of things to do to rectify her condition.

Thanks to a chance encounter on a train with a certain self-help book, (with the clever title Six Million People and You, which, come to think of it, may have been a better title for the film than Man Up), Nancy meets cute with Jack. Despite appearing a third into the film, Pegg’s presence invigorates the film, as the cameraderie between the pair is evident. Though the film is not always sure what to do with Jack and Nancy, (or should we say “Jessica”, as that chance encounter on the train leaves Jack to believe that this is her name), there is copious amounts of drinking and bowling, (and even a little reflexive dancing!) In fact, all is going well for Nancy / Jessica until her semi-scary acquaintance Sean appears one the scene, and threatens to gum up the works. Sean is played by Shakespearean actor Rory Kinnear, acting in a completely different fashion than his character in Spectre. While behaving quite like a stalker of Nancy, Sean nonetheless spills the beans about her real identity, and Jack is decidedly miffed. But while most rom-comes end around this point, Nancy still wants to continue the experience as herself, and decides to call back to her earlier scenes in the film where she obsesses over The Silence of the Lambs, and tries on a new persona to irritate Jack’s ex-wife Hilary (Olivia Williams).

While the movie adheres to a hackneyed flash mob, done farm more effectively in films of a recent vintage, the film wears its  influence quite well, having a bit of fun within the audience’s expectations. It’s a bit of a trifle, but a fun one, and Bell continues to prove that the Lake runs very deep, and that she is deserving of far more exposure in mainstream films. Perhaps it’s time for the Re-Bell-ion?

[star v=3]