Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Movie Review: Man Up (2015)



I think at this point, it’s safe to say that Simon Pegg has officially become the new “that British guy” in modern cinema. You know, that recognizable UK actor that pops up in films whom, either through reputation or prevalence, almost everyone knows if only by appearance alone. Between his genre-redefining work with Edgar Wright to the populist re-imaginings of older franchises with J.J. Abrams, I’d also consider this is a damn good thing as well given the quality averages of this guy’s filmography. Hell, I’m eagerly awaiting the next Star Trek film with him as the co-writer, even if it is being directed by the guy who did the majority of The Fast & The Furious films… even when I’m praising an actor’s work, that cynicism never lets up, does it? Yeah, let’s get started with today’s film before it overloads and I start nitpicking the very minor flaws in the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy. This is Man Up.

The plot: Nancy (Lake Bell), despite attempts by others to set her up on dates, never manages to connect with people. However, on a rather impulsive move, she ends up connecting with Jake (Simon Pegg) on a blind date… that isn’t hers. Rather, it’s Jessica (Ophelia Lovibond), a woman who Nancy just happen to meet on the train, who is meant to be on the date with Jake. Nancy wants to tell Jake the truth and give up the ruse, but that proves to be a difficult decision when she actually starts falling for him.

Apart from the third-act break-up cliché that I will always find time to bitch about, one of the other major down points of any romantic comedy is the lie/misunderstanding that usually ends up causing it. Unless the film was released on a blue moon, whatever that reason is is usually contrived, annoying and visible to even the most oblivious of viewers. I bring this up because it takes a particularly ballsy writer to make a premise that relies solely on a lie/misunderstanding. Well, thankfully, Tess Morris seems to have set up the right story parameters to actually make the premise work, and work really damn well at that. For starters, the lie itself doesn’t last that long. The bulk of the film’s events, from the chance meeting between Nancy and Jessica to the blind date to the aftermath of the date, all take place on the same day. Not only does this make the lie itself less difficult to put up with, and feel less like a penny about to drop, it also ends up encasing all of the film’s emotional levels in a tight package; oddly enough, that kind of rollercoaster is roughly what any first date is going to feel like, especially blind dates.

Another reason why it ends up working is that, from a character standpoint, all the actions on screen make sense; this includes the decision to lie about the blind date in the first place. Nancy, to put it in no uncertain terms, is almost deranged in how isolated she is. Her awkward social graces (or complete lack thereof) coupled with her desperation to connect with people, when put into the same melting pot, would no doubt boil over into a frankly bizarre decision such as this. This is helped by how, once the lie is revealed, the news is dealt with in the appropriate stages, not letting the fact negate everything that had just transpired. That, and Pegg gives her a taste of her own medicine; emotional blackmail, yes, but it helps that the acting is damn good to help sell it. Pegg is all things charming and warm and just about everything you hope would await you on the other end of a blind date. Opposite him is Lake Bell, who has an almost superhuman ability for facial expressions, sells both her emotionally damaged character but also her relationship with Jake; aside from Nick Frost, very few people are actually capable of keeping up with Pegg’s delivery. While the rest of the cast work well on screen, the only other actor of note is Rory Kinnear as Sean, the embodiment of every creepy high school crushee. He is pitch perfect in the role, to the point where I want to question his personal experience in this area. However, it’d be one thing to just portray a complete stalker; it’s something else to make him not slimy to the point of being unwatchable, which Kinnear manages to do. Not that he humanizes this type of person, as his actions are framed as being unnerving and repulsive as they should be, but he still makes him somewhat funny and likeable in a goofy way.

The third, and most important, reason why the film’s premise works as well as it does is because the writing is just that damn funny. As should be expected for a film centred on a blind date, a lot of the comedy comes from just how awkward it gets. Now, this style of humour isn’t that easy to pull off, as more often than not it just descends into that realm of awkwardness that causes involuntary twitching in any direction other than the screen. Here, through the delivery of Pegg and Bell, their repartee about Silence Of The Lambs and whether or not Black Pant Wash is an actual band clicks together and makes for insanely fun viewing. It also helps that, for as surreal as it can get at times like the intervention of the aforementioned creep Sean, it stays on this side of reality through the night’s events. Both the comedy and the drama, which is pretty smultzy but still effective, is also helped by Dickon Hinchliffe’s fantastic soundtrack selection. This is like Love, Rosie to the tenth power, as the music here is top-notch from a thematic standpoint: Paloma Faith’s Upside Down to open the film, Duran Duran’s The Reflex expertly timed for a surprising bout of confrontational dancing, Whitesnake leading the charge for the film’s highest point of cheese, not to mention a piano cover of The Pixies’ Where Is My Mind at the perfect moment of the film; I can only hope that this guy gets more soundtrack work to do.

All in all, this is definitely a far-above-average rom-com that actually manages to deliver on both the romantic and comedic fronts. The acting is excellent, with some great chemistry between our two leads, the writing turns the topic of “So, how did you two meet?” into an appraisal of the more eccentric stories about how couples end up getting together, and the music is expertly picked. It may follow rom-com plot beats fairly straight, and its overall message may be a bit basic, but this is still a film that manages to exceed beyond the confines of its generic counterparts to make for a very funny and heartfelt watch. Given how rare that is with rom-coms nowadays, I definitely recommend checking this one out. It ranks higher than Trainwreck and, really, that should tell you everything right there: This rom-com works so freaking well that it outdoes a film whose sole purpose is to trash rom-com clichés. Coming from a completely cynical bastard, that’s high praise. However, for its balls-to-the-wall creativity, Wyrmwood inches out over this one.

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