Friday, February 26, 2016

Rom-com of the year? Yes! Ben Palmer and Tess Morris' delightful surprise, MAN UP

What a treat. We should, of course, expect a lot from Lake Bell, after so many good performances and her terrific directing debut, In a World... But Simon Pegg as the perfect leading man: charming, funny (of course), self-deprecating and real? Now, that's a major surprise. Sure, Pegg is always funny but he's also always bizarre. Who knew he had this kind of performance in him?

Well, obviously MAN UP's director, Ben Palmer (shown at left) and writer, Tess Morris (below, right) knew. This pair, together with their two actors (and Ophelia Lovibond in a choice supporting role) take the rom-com into bright, delicious new byways we have not traveled in a good long time.

From the initial scene, as our heroine Nancy (Ms Bell), frightened of having to interact with the crowd at a party, turns to the bottle and a very funny room service waiter, to an scene on a train with Ms
Lovibond and a famous would-be self-help book, to the sudden meeting with Mr. Pegg, the movie is super-amusing, clearly character-based, and about as cleverly written, directed and acted as you could possibly wish.

Yes, Man Up is a rom-com, but how long has it been since we've seen one of this high an order, where everything clicks into place and yet still gifts us with a whole shebang of small surprises that keep unfurling beautifully, even as they propel the plot along, while building the characters of our two possible lovers? A year? Try a decade.

Bell and Pegg (above and below) meet more than cute -- it's a great set-up and it's quite believable, too.  This pair does indeed seem "meant for each other." When trouble ensues -- brought about by an old schoolmate, played with utter relish and great comedic skill by the wonderful Rory Kinnear -- that's every bit as bizarrely believable.

Probably the most surprising thing, however, is how the movie treats its "other woman," written and played so well by Ms Lovibond (shown two photos below, at left). This is simply wonderful, and it makes Man Up seem absolutely all that it could be. Compare this with the recent rom-com Tumbledown, and the thankless manner in which it treats its "other woman" and "other man," and you'll quickly understand how special the film is and why its "feel-good" makes you feel that way, guilt-free.

The ensemble supporting cast is quite wonderful, too, with choice names like Harriet Walter, Olivia Williams (above, left), Stephen Campbell Moore (above, right), Ken Stott and Sharon Horgan (of Amazon's fab Catastrophe series) doing lovely turns.

The final scenes, which are as fine as in any rom-com I've seen for ages, build beautifully to the conclusion, in which the word "babysitter" proves pivotal and just about perfect -- and, again, absolutely believable. The array of talent and how it is used here is rather amazing. To miss this delight would be a loss for anyone who appreciates the rom-com genre -- and maybe equally so for just-plain-movie-lovers, too.

This British film had a shockingly small theatrical life on this side of the pond, but its DVD, Blu-ray and eventual streaming venues should help it find the huge audience it so richly deserves. You can view it now via the usual various venues -- for purchase or rental.

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