It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
“Man Up” trots out all the tried-and-true romantic comedy clichés: the meet cute, the wacky friends, the drunken date, the spontaneous dance routine, the mistaken identity, the hurt feelings and, ultimately, the mad dash to make some very public displays of affection. And with its American star, Lake Bell, donning a solid British accent to play a lonely London singleton in her mid-30s, the Bridget Jones comparisons aren’t just apt, they’re inevitable.
But Bell and co-star Simon Pegg are such enjoyably unlikely rom-com leads, and they have such crackling chemistry from the word go, they more than make up for some of the film’s more predictable plot elements. Likewise, director Ben Palmer and writer Tess Morris know all these genre conventions so well—and they know that you know them—that they’ve had a little fun subverting your expectations. This isn’t a wink-wink parody like last year’s straining Paul Rudd-Amy Poehler comedy “They Came Together,” but it’s got several tweaks that indicate a playful sense of self-awareness.
“Man Up”—which is an unfortunate title, by the way—opens with a long, unbroken shot that begins at a tropical-themed engagement party and ends at the hotel room of Bell’s Nancy, who’s trying to work up the courage (with the help of her mini-bar contents) to join the festivities. There, a blind date awaits, which she’s dreading—which is why it’s ironic that she accidentally winds up on a different blind date soon afterward.
While taking the train to visit her parents (Ken Stott and Harriet Walter) for their 40th wedding anniversary celebration, the acerbic writer Nancy gets stuck chatting with the perky Jessica (Ophelia Lovibond), who’s carrying a self-help book. Jessica is on her way to Waterloo Station to meet a man she’s been set up with by a mutual friend, whom she’ll recognize instantly because he’ll also be carrying the same book.