Film Review: Man Up

It’s amazing how with some films you can spend months anticipating, waiting impatiently for them to arrive (my 10 Films Of 2015 I Can’t Wait To See list for instance) and yet others appear without warning, almost sneaking into your life and taking you by surprise. Man Up is one of those films because I knew nothing about it until I saw the trailer 3 weeks ago as I waited to watch Pitch Perfect 2. It looked light hearted and funny and a typically inoffensive “Rom Com”. The trailer just oozing a warmth and charm that felt incredibly friendly and inviting, and instantly made me want to see it.

So I did! And sadly the initial warmth and passion I had cooled quickly. It’s just not as good as I’d hoped. I think my first initial problem is that the film manages to very quickly create a tone that puts you on edge. It creates characters and situations that are just one step removed from normal. It’s done in an attempted comic turn, but it just felt awkward and slightly off putting. It sets the scene, essentially, by showing us these hyper real people that feel more like stereotyped clichés, and then pads everything out around them to make it’s plot in a way that just felt scripted and over micromanaged. It somehow lacks a sense of naturalism. You can almost see the writers creating the lines and the jokes and the imagery, sitting there going “and now the audience laughs…”.

Simon Pegg & Lake Bell - Man Up

And that sense of puppetry in terms of the next laugh or situational turn meant that everything just felt a little bit too forced. I kept feeling that it was trying too hard to make itself different. That it didn’t want to be just another “boy meets girl” romantic comedy but rather a more grown up story that echoes the actual emotions people feel when thrust onto a blind date. That sense of faking it, of lying to look better than you are and the awkward pauses when you’re not sure whether to laugh or cry as you realise it’s all going horribly wrong. They’re all there, the only emotions reaching you from the screen, enveloping the story and the characters and stopping anything from really breaking free.

It isn’t helped by the fact that while there are passing moments that will make you audibly chuckle, and one or two really funny jokes, most of the time it’s not actually that funny. It sadly falls back to the fact that the tone of the films is this forced nervousness that means that when it does attempt to make a joke, it’s either so obvious you’ve predicted it before it’s begun, or it’s so stupidly observed that it’s just too much. It’s beyond plausible and bordering on the impossibly offensive. My example is the character Sean (played by Rory Kinnear) who is just so unrealistic and slapstick and in fact lowered the tone so much that he destroyed any seriousness the film even attempted to claim to have. I really did sit there watching his propositions thinking “OK, I wasn’t convinced beforehand by this story but now it’s just gone too stupidly far”.

Rory Kinnear & Lake Bell - Man Up

And Rory Kinnear is just the opening problem. Firstly, it didn’t make any emotional connection with me, it’s not a film you relax into. If anything it feels more like you are sitting beside it, listening to it tell harp on, rather than really being there, taking part. Also, there is a horrendously visual continuity error during the opening sequences involving food that is so noticeable that it clouded my mind and caused me to spend latter scenes more interested in watching for other errors than listening to the characters. Worse of all though, it succumbs to the typical “Hollywood Alcohol” problem as it should be known. I was never a huge drinker, but even I’m sure for the amount of, and time spent drinking, they wouldn’t be loveably walking, talking and enjoying the night as they are. It’d be slurred speech and flailing limbs not the Queen’s English and perfect deportment. But this is Hollywood so we just ignore that issue. It’s fiction after all.

Speaking of language, while I found a lot of frustration in the film, the characters and the story. Lake Bell’s English is accent is seriously impressive. There are a few moments when emotion clouds her speech and it slips slightly back across the Atlantic, but for most the film, it feels accurate and natural and even more so, it contains the rhythm and inflections that pin point beyond just “English” and into “Regional”. Her personality may be impossibly fake but you could bump into the sound of her walking down any street.

Opposite Bell is Simon Pegg and he equals her performance, although neither are really being stretched or test and sadly, as with everything is engulfed by the films problems, you can tell that he is uneasy with the part and isn’t exactly sure how to play it, what tone to take or what jokes to make. Instead he ends up as a miss-mash, stuck lacking the realism and seriousness of his roles in Star Trek or Mission Impossible, but nowhere near as comic as anything in The Cornetto Trilogy. It’s this middle ground of nothingness, that sadly reminded me a lot of Run Fatboy Run.

Elbow (Soundtrack) - Man Up

I really wanted to like Man Up, I wanted to find a movie that would get into my heart, and find its way into my life as an uplifting story that I could return to over and over, curled up on the sofa with a bag of Maltesers when I’m feeling down. Safe that it would make me believe that anything is possible and that blind dates can work. And it didn’t. In fact, my thoughts are best summed up by the way it finishes. It ends with a specifically composed track by the band Elbow, the perfect simile, because as a band, I always think of them fondly and warmly, and then I stick on their album and find a slightly melancholic tune that fails to hit the spot. This is that.

5 out of 10 stars (5 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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