2015 – When chronically single Nancy (Lake Bell) is mistaken for divorcee Jack’s (Simon Pegg) blind date, she decides to play along.
If you’re looking for a clever, touching alternative to the execrable Silver Linings Playbook – a movie that doesn’t coddle its characters or talk down to its audience, a movie that’s dialogue-heavy but never feels tedious, a movie about real feelings and not trite Hollywood angst – look no further.
The real enjoyment of watching a romantic comedy is being able to picture yourself as one of the leads. If done properly, you should be thinking, “Hey, I’m not terrible-looking and have a sense of humor! If I played my cards right, this same thing could happen to me!” Man Up presents a dating scene that should be all too familiar to 30-somethings, a place where disappointment, divorce, and the inevitable cynicism are all too common.
Just about everyone can relate to Nancy’s situation in the opening scenes: forced into a disastrous blind date by a few well-intentioned friends. Her sister Elaine (Sharon Horgan) encourages her to keep her chin up and be impulsive. After an encounter with an obnoxiously chipper 20-something (Ophelia Lovibond), Nancy decides to do exactly that and allows an improbable string of circumstances to connect her with Jack. As you might expect, their date goes better than either of them could have expected… until an obsessed ex-neighbor and a vindictive ex-wife arrive on the scene.
The film takes place pretty close to “real time,” encompassing the events of one afternoon and evening. While a modest run-time helps keep the movie taut and crisp, it also helps itself by continually upping the stakes. While we enjoy watching the two leads move through their awkward first date conversations, we’re also kept in suspense by one sub-plot after another: will Jack find out that Nancy isn’t the “Jessica” he was expecting? Will creepy stalker Sean (Rory Kinnear) mess things up? Will Nancy make it in time for the speech at her parents’ 40th anniversary party?
Man Up is definitely written with a certain Generation X audience in mind – people in their 30s and early 40s who have been through the dating ringer, have faced ruined relationships and even failed marriages, and are yearning for the kind of connection their parents seemed to have. Millennials, a lot of whom live in broken households and think a “relationship” is three dates with someone you met on Tinder, won’t get it.
It also toes the line between a traditional romantic comedy and the more popular gross-out humor of today. There are a few scenes, mostly featuring the Sean character, that just don’t jive with the overall tone of the movie. These slight inconsistencies are like the off notes that the doomed flutist was playing in Red Dragon in that they made me take notice, but fortunately not enough for me to want to butcher and eat someone.
Things recover quickly, though, thanks mainly to how charming Bell and Pegg are in their respective roles. There isn’t a lot of screaming and wailing, but there is a lot to appreciate about the acting. Paired with an overall positive tone and a strong cast of supporting characters, it’s enough to push Man Up into the must-see echelon on Netflix.