Man Up (2015)
October 25, 2016 2:48 PM - Subscribe

A single woman takes the place of a stranger's blind date. Wackiness ensues.

Nancy, is done with dating. 10 times bitten, 100 times shy, she's exhausted by the circus. So when Jack blindly mistakes her for his date, no one is more surprised than her when she does the unthinkable and just --- goes with it. It's going to take a night of pretending to be someone else for Nancy to finally man up and be her painfully honest, awesomely unconventional self... but will Jack also man up, and be able to get over her duplicity? Best just to let the evening unfold, roll with the consequences, and see if one crazy, unpredictable, complicated night can bring these two messy souls together.
posted by Just this guy, y'know (15 comments total)
I just watched this looking for something light to go with wine and pizza and tiramisu and enjoyed it quite a lot. I liked the female lead being broadly cynical and the male lead being something of an emotional wreck.
It didn't really do much in the way of subverting, but it was still a lot of fun.

I did not like the underplaying of a genuinely creepy sex offender and of course the fact that they came out of Bloomsbury lanes and onto somewhere in the vicinity of Wardour street, which is like 22 minutes walk away.

In fact!
Whilst we are at it, let's consider this an appended trivia section.
There is some teleporting involved. Jack says that the Bar Rosalita's is just over the river whilst they walk over Hungerford bridge. but then the exterior appears to be the back door of Vinopolis in Borough.
Unsurprisingly the inside is a different bar, which I think is in Maida Vale.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:06 PM on October 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

I enjoyed this quite a bit (and was impressed by Lake Bell's British accent) until the downplaying of the stalker. Did not like that and was surprised that the writer thought it was a good idea.

Bonus: cameo from Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the actress who plays the lead in BBC's Fleabag.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:48 PM on October 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have mixed feelings about the film. I was looking forward to seeing it with Bell and Pegg as the stars since they're both excellent actors, and the movie showed promise, but ultimately felt disappointing since they didn't have anyplace interesting to go with the story.

It seems like romantic comedies are caught in a bind lately. Commercial filmmakers recognize that we're no longer confined by old ideas of traditional relationships, but they haven't figured out any suitable resolution to their films which doesn't fall back on those old premises. Some of the animating characteristics of the main characters are interesting, and the surrounding cast is often more reflective of changing times, but the need to tie everything together into a big "true love" bow at the end of the film keeps the central characters from developing fully and reinforces ideas that don't quite fit the framing they've set up.

In this particular film, Lake Bell's and Simon Pegg's abilities are somewhat wasted as they both seem a lot more complex than their character actions allow in the end. The film has a number of enjoyable moments to be sure, and a few scenes do show Bell's character to be more unusually complex than is often the case for female leads, but these don't really developed into much and Pegg's character remains more conventionally defined, so their development as a couple doesn't quite pay off as it perhaps could of. It felt a little like there was a better movie about the two leads trying to get out, but that the surrounding conventions smothered it. In a way, that fits the films since Bell and Pegg's romance is so community driven, performative more than personal in terms of the film's structure and plotting. Maybe that is, in a sense, a meaningful enough concept to make the film more resonant, or could be if it was more thoroughly developed, but it didn't come across that way while watching it so it just seemed a mildly pleasing missed chance in the end.

Lake Bell really needs better roles. Her talent is being wasted. I'm hoping she makes more movies of her own since In a World showed a lot of promise in both filmmaking craft and in character ideas.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:56 AM on October 26, 2016

I did not even realise that she was not English. Very impressive accent work.
The stalker is horrific, but played off as comic relief. Really disappointing. Like, he has a picture of her bedroom in his wallet. That's not funny. I was hoping that the end of the film where he's coming out of the house he'd be met by a police car and a restraining order.

The problem with RomComs is that it's quite hard to subvert them much whilst still fitting the form. You need the pat ending, the audience expects it and if you don't deliver, well I don't know how you'd do that without ruining the movie. I mean, you need a meetcute and a happily ever after or it's a different genre, don't you?
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 2:58 AM on October 26, 2016

Well, part of that would lie more in definition than action, which doesn't make your comment invalid since that is a big part of what genres are, agreed upon definitions are what makes us lump groups of works together, but the boundaries of genres allow for quite a bit of leeway over what might fit and they change a good deal over time as certain themes or tropes shift to fit new audiences.

With romantic comedies, there are already a number of different sub-genres within the overarching genre umbrella. Movies about married couples breaking up and coming back together, for example, has remained something of a staple. My thinking is that some conventions in the genre just don't fit as well anymore since the world isn't quite so tied to just one idea of what "happily ever after" might mean. A popular film that broke with tradition in that sense was My Best Friend's Wedding, where the couple getting together at the end wasn't the romantic couple, but the two friends. The film in every other way is a romantic comedy, but that change allowed it to suggest that traditional romance isn't the only path to happiness.

For a movie like Man Up, I'm not sure what other path they should have taken, but the two characters they followed might have more comfortably fit into a less traditional reconciliation in the end. Something more fluid or less concrete perhaps, or otherwise less defined by what the social values on pair bonding are and more on their individual idiosyncratic histories. I of course can't say whether that kind of change would actually make the film any better, maybe not, but the film as it is relied a little too much on outside contrivance, including the "useful" stalker to feel like the resolution actually fit the characters for me.
posted by gusottertrout at 3:35 AM on October 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't want to belabor my point, but after some reflection, I think I could have been a little more specific about an area I think went amiss.

At the start of the film we're following Lake Bell's character Nancy who is partner adverse. She's doing her best to avoid getting involved with anybody despite the wishes of her sister. We get to watch a few choices moments of awkwardness as a base for judging her issues with relationships, and after a bit, we get to see her talk with the young woman on the plane about the relationship book she's carrying.

That discussion leads to her being given the book, even though she doesn't want it, and eventually leads to Nancy meeting up with Jack. On a whim she feigns being Jack's blind date and things go from there. So the first transition is from Nancy being relationship avoidant to pretending to be someone else to have a date because Jack seems attractive and maybe because of the book?

We follow the blind date knowing Nancy is lying and getting further over her head by the minute. Jack is being too nice and a little too much and we eventually learn he's doing the usual self puffery for this date partly for the normal reasons and partly due to having been dumped by his ex who he found having an affair.

So its established that Nancy doesn't want a relationship but she's actively pursuing one as someone else, while Jack does want a relationship though he's still hung up over his last one. All fine and good to some extent, though Nancy's transition being no to aggressive pursuit seems a bit hard to justify. From that point on though the film's active protagonist starts to slowly shift from Nancy to Jack and that's where I think the film loses its way.

From the point Nancy's stalker dude is introduced at the bowling alley Nancy's role becomes more and more submissive while Jack starts to become increasingly dominant. The exchange over Nancy's deception comes off as overly harsh to me, but even were it not, that's the turning point in the film where it becomes less about Nancy learning to give in to relationships, and more about Jack learning to trust Nancy even though Jack has shown little problem in having relationships before or in seeking out blind dates. This skews the story from being two people overcoming their issues to find a relationship to having their issues change to fit the actions of the plot for laughs. So by the end of the film Nancy is distraught and abasing herself before her family and friends, even having to accept stalker guy as her faux boyfriend, a sort of punishment twist from her pretense earlier, while Jack is the one running across town to proclaim his love for her.

The set up had Nancy as the active protagonist with doubts about love, but the end has Jack as the active protagonist trying to prove his love without the film having done the work to show why they swapped positions very well. Jack shows no compunction about dating, so there's no real change in having him still want a relationship at the end other than it being with Nancy as opposed to someone else. The only reason for his taking that long to decide was his excess anger at her deception, even as he admitted deceiving her himself in a perhaps milder fashion. There's no real character change there, while Nancy becomes someone totally different from the beginning of the film by the end without much clarity over why even with her speech to the family in mind.

All the contrivances didn't seem to be working to further the film's perspective on the characters, they instead seemed more to be decided upon to put the characters into amusing situations that had some connection to their respective issues, but without maintaining a consistent view of what those issues were. Moving from Nancy to Jack shorted both characters of their emotional arcs, making it harder to enjoy the resolution to the story than it should have been. Their actions seemed more for the view of the audience, us and in the film, than for themselves in a way that left me feeling their end state didn't quite find justification through their changing relationship we are given in the plot. It's only because Pegg and Bell are so enjoyable and compelling on their own that the film's conclusion makes much sense, but that's no small thing as those two are enjoyable enough to make it as least reasonable to an audience that they would want to get together, no matter how it happened.
posted by gusottertrout at 6:29 AM on October 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

It would have made more character sense and been funnier if it was Jack who was sitting with his "real" blind date and the family, his or hers, and Nancy was the one who had to overcome her doubts and chase across town to claim the relationship, leaving her the active protagonist, both overcoming their shortcomings, and Jack giving up a "sure thing" with his book lover date for a less sure, but higher upside chance with Nancy. The film could have ended with the relationship in flux, but promising in that fashion.

And with that out of my system, I'll shut the hell up now. Sorry for the long monologue, I get carried away sometimes.
posted by gusottertrout at 6:39 AM on October 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

I liked the monologue.
I would disagree about the initial motivations of Nancy. She's not actively against a relationship, she wants one, and this is something her sister and she have talked about. They're shown as being very close and I don't think it would make sense for Nancy's sister to be pushing so hard to get Nancy dating if they hadn't had this same discussion over and over.
Nancy is just completely and totally cynical about all the methods presented to her for finding a relationship, and has talked herself out of any chance to do so.
When she meets Jack under the clock I think she's driven by that cynicism more than by hope.
She wants to show Jessica that the world really is cruel and heartless, but at the same time recognises that this is not how you normal start dates and doesn't have a cynical scenario to cover the occasion.

At the same time, Jack had only really agreed to the blind date because he wants to take her to a bar he knows his ex will be at so he can parade around his 24 year old triathlete date. He doesn't care about her being young, he doesn't care that she's a triathlete. He just wants a date which will make his ex-wife feel bad.
He is very much not over her. It's all he's really thinking about.

After her deception is revealed Nancy stops being "Jessica" where she is play acting someone else on a date, and starts to revert back to being Nancy. She's no good at dating whilst being Nancy, because Nancy has had too many failures in this area, but "Jessica" hasn't.
As soon as she fully accepts being Nancy she spreads her cynicism to Jack's wife and new partner with great glee.

By the end Nancy realises that she actually did quite like being "Jessica" and that the thing getting in the way of her love life was maybe Nancy all along.
Jack realises that he only wanted to date the 24 year old to upset his wife and realises that he needs to stop making choices based on something that's long been over. He needs to pursue what Jack really wants, and not what Jack needs for revenge.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 6:59 AM on October 26, 2016

You are undoubtedly right about those being the intended motivations as the movie stands, and we could possibly add that the reason Jack gets so upset with Nancy is that he was deceived by his ex so Nancy's deception just furthers his anger the whole notion of being a patsy.

I just wasn't convinced that background made for sufficient motivation for the changes over the course of the film or perhaps how they were handled post-reveal. I mean Jack is kind of an ass after Nancy's reveal, so her intensified interest is difficult to take and after they hang out with his ex, Jack goes to meet Jessica, suggesting at least some maintained desire for a relationship that makes his treatment of Nancy a little harder to swallow and his mad dash to find Nancy seem less a change than a continuation of his desire for a partner in some ways.

Nonetheless, the reading you propose is the best aligned one, so it isn't as if the movie doesn't make some emotional sense, it's more just a slight difference in how satisfying we find the developments I think. I guess it might be that I just didn't want Nancy to feel she wanted to be like Jessica after all and there could be some other path to a relationship instead.
posted by gusottertrout at 8:38 AM on October 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

I liked your monologue too, gusottertrout. You articulated a lot of what bothered me at that turning point in the film. I definitely was taken aback by the harshness of Jack's response. Nancy became just a Manic Pixie Dream Girl to help the male protagonist achieve personal growth.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:41 AM on October 26, 2016

Thanks. I'm happy Just this guy, y'know made a post for this. Romantic comedies often don't get much serious attention and they should since they're as important as any other genre in world cinema. Even the ones that aren't great can be interesting to talk about.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:18 AM on October 26, 2016

I think my interpretation was what the writers intended. I think yours is closer to what they achieved.

Jack's rush to find her at the end was classic RomCom satisfying, but I was disappointed at the male protagonist being the active one in the conclusion and the grand gesture fixing everything.

If you could rewrite the film from when they part at Waterloo (which I think is where the protagonist seems to switch) what changes would you make?
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 10:30 AM on October 26, 2016

Good know, I think I would probably rewind earlier. I thought he needed to work a little harder to get Nancy to forgive him for his massive overreaction to finding out her deception on meeting him. I'm not sure how I'd change the rest though.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:13 PM on October 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I don't know if it's so much a question of just changing things from a certain point so much as subtly altering the dynamics throughout a little bit. For me, the major character dynamics are that Nancy has no faith in the process of finding a partner, and Jack wants certainty in his partner, so the flow of the movie should be in having Nancy move towards accepting there is some potential gain in getting involved, and for Jack that certainty isn't necessarily the most important consideration in a relationship.

A disclaimer, while I generally don't try to rewrite movies in my mind to make them fit some preferred arrangement since that kinda goes against the grain of how I try to appreciate artistic works, in this case I'll go with it less as an idea of a rewrite, since I'm certainly not screenwriter, and more just a notion of how to better balance the dynamic flow of the film.

I'd make Jessica more of a character to act as a fulcrum between Jack and Nancy who allows them to each figure out their interests. After Nancy and Jack get into their argument over Nancy's pretending to be Jessica and Jack's self puffery, I'd make Jack's decision to meet with the real Jessica more central to his arc, and have her book version of love come across as exactly the sort of certainty or commitment that his previous relationship broke down over and which Nancy won't offer. I'd make Nancy's unwillingness to allow herself to get involved more noted and maybe go with something like having her make the mad dash across town from her parents party to find Jack once she realizes he might provide something worth taking a shot at due to seeing her parents relationship somehow echo part of her day his Jack. While Jack would come to realize that certainty in commitment up front is confinement to an ideal, not to another person, and see Jessica's eagerness to jump in to a committed relationship from the get go to be a troubling idea in its own right.

Nancy would run across town in a futile attempt to find Jack before he meets with Jessica, while Jack and Jessica would find they aren't actually a good match at all. For the resolution, I'd have Nancy catch up with Jack, some group in tow just as it was in the movie, but instead of some big commitment to "true love" or whatnot, I'd make the whole chase just a chance for her to ask him out on a real date. No commitment involved, but an express desire to give their involvement a real chance.

This fixes the movies problem of it seeming like Nancy's trouble was just in not having the "right guy" ask her out, which is kinda silly, while making Jack's perspective also a little more clear and changes the dynamic of the relationship and tweaks the male/female, active/passive roles in traditional romantic comedies enough to provide some freshness. I think you could keep most of the funny stuff that way, and maybe build a little more with Jack getting some added emotional scenes like Nancy's at the party, and Nancy getting a little more physical comedy in giving her the chase. But, as I said, I'm no writer, so who knows whether that would work any better than what's already there.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:40 AM on October 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

This has the advantage that you can tone down the creepy sex criminal.
I like the inclusion of Jessica more. I like that the film as is sort of set her up as a villain, but in the end had her working as an enabler for the conclusion, not a blocker.

The more I think about it the more I agree that there needed to be more Jessica, maybe for both of them, to show how their characters had changed throughout.

I can see the ending where Nancy goes (with the blessing of her parents and sister) to find Jack, some sort of mad chase as before and finally meets up and declares that he is all she's ever been waiting for and they should get married forthwith.
Jessica goes "Squeeeee"
Jack goes "Uh.. really? Okay, great"
Nancy replies "No, of course not that would be fucking stupid. Let's just go bowling again"
(or something long those lines)
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 4:22 AM on October 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

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