So, before I get into this, let’s talk about the title: Man Up – for real? For me, this is a poor choice and is just an attempt to try and appeal to the younger audience; I hate the expression. First of all, the protagonist is a woman, a female, and definitely not a ‘man’. What does the expression even mean? That having courage is a male trait and therefore, as a female, you have to be more masculine and ‘grow some balls’ (again, another ridiculous expression describing courage)? To be clear, no, women are perfectly capable of making a brave decision without temporarily (and metaphorically) growing a penis. Women do no have to act like men to become better people and yes, I understand this term relates to Simon Pegg’s character, Jack, too but for once, I’d love the media to stop unnecessarily gendering things. Phew, now that’s out the way, let’s move onto the film itself.
Nancy is a thirty-something, self-help loathing singleton who strikes up a conversation on a train with a self-help loving, twenty-four year old triathlete on her way to a blind date. In an attempt to open Nancy’s mind to the world of self-help delights, the stranger purposely leaves her book behind resulting in Nancy racing through Waterloo station in an attempt to return it. Cue cheesy romcom meet as Nancy stands defeated under the clock and is mistaken for Jack’s blind date with Ms Triathlete. Jack gives Nancy the opportunity to take on an entirely new identity without the fear of rejection; she treats it as a chance to test out the dating game but as fate would have it, they end up being the perfect match.
Ben Palmer’s Man Up is very British as he keeps it simple and doesn’t stretch the plot as far as his American counterparts. Lake Bell, who plays Nancy, is likeable, charasmatic, funny and her English accent it pretty decent too. She gets the best lines and her delivery of them really makes the film come to life. However, I feel she’s too good to play such a menial role; she could easily take on much bigger challenges in Hollywood.
Nancy is a relatable thirty-something, choosing to stay in and eat junk food at the start of the film,rather than get dressed up and attend a party where she would have to be false. Despite creating a believable character, the plot is weakened (taking my hope with it) with the constant attempts by Nancy’s friends and family to make her a wife, mother and very, very happy. I fail to see how sitting in on a Saturday night watching crap TV and eating junk food would not make you happy but hey, every woman will only find true happiness when married with offspring, right?
Having to swerve date after date with men she has zero interest in must be pretty tiring so it’s refreshing when she accidentally hits it off with Jack. Ironically, the whole charade of false identity enables Nancy to be her true self (she continues to snack on crisps, do shots of tequila and crack witty one-liners) and still find a spark in the unlikely circumstances.
Simon Pegg’s character is not exactly the charming, ripped hunk usually found in a romcom which is a definite step in the right direction for making the genre more relatable. Despite this, he is gifted with an amazing opportunity when he meets the funny and very pretty Nancy, yet his anger at missing out on a younger, fitter model is evident. He should be relieved to have connected with someone a lot more suitable but he is blinded by his recent divorce and quite frankly seems to have turned into a bit of a desperate perv. His character does have redeeming qualities as he does genuinely seem a gentleman and he does turn it around in the end, but it could be argued it would be a little too late for many women.
Man Up is refreshingly different but it’s still not quite there for me. Palmer has missed the opportunity to take the genre to new heights with his predictable plot; he takes the easy way out by giving the viewer what they want or expect. In reality, a forty year old recent divorcee who meets a fit woman online who he is pretty much old enough to father means he’s a a bit of shallow knob and for me, there’s no getting around that.