Simon Pegg is one of the most likeable British actors of his generation, but after the glorious highs of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, trying to land another consistently funny vehicle was far from easy. Yes, Paul came close while The World’s End (featuring arguably Pegg’s best turn), peaked at the half way mark.
Thankfully his new movie Man Up is a beautifully scripted rom com which re-asserts Pegg’s status as a leading man.
Reminiscent of Dustin Hoffman’s Last Chance Harvey (bittersweet London sightseeing romance-type genre) and Love Actually (hero desperately trying to find partner with community help), Man Up rests on the muscular shoulders of that reliable mistaken identity premise.
American actress Lake Bell (from sublime comedy In a World…) is word perfect as Nancy, the British singleton heroine whose chance encounter with a fellow train passenger and self help book advocate sets in motion a chain of events.
Jack (Pegg) mistakes her for his blind date, Nancy stumbles into a complex web of lies and they soon enjoy one another’s company.
The fly in the ointment is Rory Kinnear, on hilarious form as Nancy’s obsessed old friend. Their bowling date results in a cringe worthy revelation, and a welcome chance to turn the tables.
As the focus shifts from her deception to his fractious state due to a pending divorce, Man Up gets a second wind.
An hilarious dance routine set to Duran Duran’s The Reflex is one of the best surprises of the year, as is Bell.
Her comedic skills are as superb as her accent, especially during a bowling alley montage.
The chemistry between the leads works a treat, while there is solid support from Sharon Horgan, Ken Stott, Harriet Walter and Olivia Williams.
Yes, it may be formulaic in places but Pegg and producer Nira Park know how to spin a sparkling cinematic garment from the well worn material, and at 88 minutes it’s the perfect length for its story.
And if you’re a Silence of the Lambs fan like its protagonists, there’s a clever homage in the third act involving a front door.