Earlier this year, Sleeping with Other People paid lip service to challenging long-held notions of the superiority of monogamous relationships before finally conforming to them. Man Up is more egregiously conventional from the start. Despite the self-destructive bitterness with which Nancy (Lake Bell) approaches the possibility of romance, this isn’t the kind of film that has any interest in even considering that she might not need a significant other in her life to be happy. Instead, the film ends up following the familiar rom-com arc of having Nancy desperately search for Mr. Right and endure all sorts of obstacles, self-inflicted or otherwise, on her way to finding The One.
Within such formulaic boundaries, Man Up throws in a few marginally interesting curveballs. Chief among them is the nature of the relationship that develops between Nancy and Jack (Simon Pegg) after he mistakes her for his blind date for the evening. After indulging in mistaken-identity farce, the filmmakers more intriguingly wade into Nancy and Jack’s maybe-courtship, offering glimpses into the characters’ deeper neuroses. While Nancy channels her disillusionment through black humor and off-putting social behavior, the more emotionally transparent Jack, in spite of the divorce he’s going through, maintains his idealism about love. When he tells her that she should “man up,” it’s his way of advising her that she ought to have faith that the right person will eventually come into her life.
As appealing as Pegg and Bell are here, their star wattage isn’t enough to distract from the sense that their characters are almost exclusively defined by their single-ness, with precious little colorful detail sketched in to give them any dimension beyond the state of their love lives. But then, giving these characters depth beyond the ideological dictates of rom-com conventions might have shaken things up too much for the comfort of the filmmakers: Never is there any sense of danger that these two won’t ultimately see the light and find themselves in each other’s arms. Man Up ultimately leaves audiences with little to do but watch an utterly predictable narrative trajectory play out to its inevitable consummation.