There’s a germ of a good idea in Man Up, a disappointing rom-com starring Simon Pegg and Lake Bell. It’s the idea of its characters as “emotional jigsaws” – dating in their mid-30s/early-40s while burdened by the baggage of failed relationships. In Man Up’s world, the challenges of dating aren’t so much associated with finding Mr or Mrs Right as overcoming one’s own issues first.
Sadly, Man Up’s own jigsaw is desperately incomplete. Burdened with a screenplay that veers from one emotional extreme to the next – from a touching moment to an emotional breakdown to hacky slapstick – while refusing to establish characters that act like recognisable human beings, the film squanders its lead actors’ talents. They’re fun and funny enough, but they’re never given the opportunity to develop a plausible romantic chemistry (and Ben Palmer’s slapdash direction doesn’t help any).
In my books, the test of a rom-com is whether or not you buy the inevitable cliché of the grand romantic gesture. A good one transcends its silly plotting – here it’s Bell spending most of her blind date with Pegg pretending to be someone else – to attain real emotional catharsis. Man Up, instead, finds a happy ending for an attempted rapist.