“Man Up” is so predictable that you will probably guess at least half of what will happen next after its Meet Cute scene. Yes, they meet each other by accident as total strangers. Yes, they will see how much they are different from each other as they spend some time together. Yes, they will find themselves gradually attracted to each other in spite of that. Yes, there is a certain complication from the beginning, so it will naturally put some conflict upon them later. Yes, they will come to realize they do love each other, so their story will culminate to the obligatory climax which will surely take you back to many other romantic comedy films you have seen before.
While telling you all these things will not spoil any entertain for you, “Man Up” has enough romantic sparks inside its conventional plot. Mainly thanks to the good chemistry between its two likable main performers, the movie maintains its cheerful spirit well as bouncing around its expected plot points, and it is entertaining enough to overlook its several notable contrivances. We have a fun with the playful interactions between its mismatched couple, and we come to root for them even though we already knew from the start how the story will end.
In the opening scene, we meet Nancy (Lake Bell), a 34-year-old single woman who is not so interested in having a date at present. Because of her concerned sister Elaine (Sharon Horgan), she comes to a hotel for the blind date arranged for her, but she feels nervous and reluctant as the appointment time comes. In fact, she wants to stay in her room rather than going downstairs to a party where the guy in question is waiting for her. Anyway, after being persuaded by her sister, she eventually goes to the party and meets the guy, but, alas, the date does not end well as she feared.
While she is going back to London by train on the next day, Nancy meets a chirpy girl named Jessica (Ophelia Lovibond) on the train. Jessica is about to meet Jack (Simon Pegg) for their blind date, and she is carrying a self-help book which will be a sign to be noticed by Jack when they meet each other at the Wellington Station in London. When Nancy happens to carry Jessica’s book at the very spot in the station where Jessica is supposed to be waiting for Jack, Jack mistakes Nancy for Jessica, who is conveniently absent at that moment.
Instead of correcting his mistake instantly, Nancy decides to go along with this misunderstanding, so we get a number of funny moments as Nancy continues to hide her real identity from Jack, who is eager to know more about a woman with whom he has corresponded only through online communication. Because he does not know much about Jessica, Nancy manages to maintain her lie in front of Jack, but then she is more compelled to tell him the truth as she comes to like him more than expected. While they do not agree with each other on many things, they begin to sense something mutual between them as they talk more and more with each other, but Nancy still hesitates about whether she should reveal herself to Jack – even when they have a terrific time together at a bowling alley.
Most romantic comedy movies would stick around that matter, but the screenplay by Tess Morris rolls its plot further for developing its main characters along with more comic circumstances. While Nancy’s old schoolmate she comes across at one point feels a little too broad and disturbing, the scene where she tries to handle this creepy guy’s vulgar attempt to exploit her problematic situation is loony enough for our laughs. When Nancy and Jack happen to encounter Jack’s ex-wife and her boyfriend later in the story, Nancy agrees to support Jack, and how they improvise a long, hilarious boast of carnal activities in front of the other couple is one of the funniest moments in the film.
The wedding anniversary party for Nancy’s parents, which is incidentally going to be held during the evening of the same day, is no more than a plot device to function as the arrival point for our couple (Is that a spoiler?), but the movie pays some attention to Nancy’s family members from time to time. Elaine may push her sister a bit too much, but she sincerely cares about her sister’s well-being, and so do her husband and her parents. Nancy’s loving parents love each other as much as they did 40 years ago, and we can clearly see that there is still the magic between them when Nancy’s father makes a sincere speech in front of his wife and their party guests.
In case of Lake Bell and Simon Pegg, they are funny and engaging in their warm, humorous performances. Bell, who recently showed more of her considerable comedy talent through her directorial debut film “In a World…” (2013), handles well her character’s many socially awkward moments with good comic timing, and Pegg, who has steadily established his endearing comic persona since “The Shaun of the Dead” (2004), is her equal in every step of theirs. They click together well right from their first scene, and they make us involved in their characters’ romantic matter even during the predictable finale featuring a droll homage to one of the memorable moments in “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991).
On the whole, “Man Up” is not a very fresh stuff, but it is done well enough to be recommended. Under the director Ben Palmer’s competent direction, the movie is lean and efficient during its short running time (88 minutes), and I like its smart touches popping up here and there in the story. After all, not many romantic comedy film quote “The Silence of the Lambs”, you know.