Movie review: Man Up is a genuinely sweet British romantic comedy

Simon Pegg as the not-so-handsome but likable divorced guy and Lake Bell is his endearing but gawky blind date in Man Up. -- PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION
Simon Pegg as the not-so-handsome but likable divorced guy and Lake Bell is his endearing but gawky blind date in Man Up. -- PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

Never mind the bland title, British rom-com about a divorcee and a single woman gets romance and comedy right

Review Romantic comedy

MAN UP (NC16)

88 minutes/Opens tomorrow/3.5/5

The story: Thanks to a case of mistaken identity, awkward Nancy (Lake Bell) ends up on a blind date with an older, divorced man Jack (Simon Pegg). They get along swimmingly and, somehow, there is never a right moment for her to confess the error. When he eventually finds out, is there still a chance for them? Or will she fall into the clutches of a former classmate, Sean (Rory Kinnear), who has an unhealthy obsession with her?

What is the one sure sign that you are watching a British romantic comedy instead of an American one? Look at the teeth.

In Stateside flicks, the chompers are unnervingly, blindingly white. In English movies, the state of dental aesthetics is less oppressively perfect. Just look at Pegg's regular, stained teeth here.

It points to a fundamental difference in the two branches of the genre. American rom-coms tend to be glossy fairy tales while British ones are more relatable and, often, more genuinely sweet.

Pegg is a funny and easily likable actor and what he lacks in swoonsome looks, he makes up for with charm, wit and a deep-seated sense of decency. He is the everyman you root for, be it in apocalyptic comedies such as Shaun Of The Dead (2004) and The World's End (2013) or in a romance here.

Bell (Boston Legal, 2004-06) is actually American, but don't hold that against her. Besides, she is not quite in the mould of pretty-women leads such as Reese Witherspoon and Rachel McAdams. She is gawky, cynical and vulnerable in an endearing way, without quite getting into the cartoonish territory of Renee Zellweger in Bridget Jones's Diary (2001).

Pegg and Bell have a nice energy between them as they bond over crime thriller The Silence Of The Lambs (1991) and dance with choreographed aplomb to Duran Duran's The Reflex.

Director Ben Palmer, who has a knack for comedy as evidenced by his work on the hilarious British sitcom The Inbetweeners (2009-10), paces Man Up nicely. Writer Tess Morris, who has worked largely on TV, lands a few sharp observations on modern romance. The unkindest cut of a break-up turns out to be deauthorising an ex from a shared iTunes account.

Bland title aside, Man Up is a rom-com that gets both the romance and the comedy right.

bchan@sph.com.sg