*Man Up**, a 2015 British rom-com that owes more than a little to Richard Curtis. (Man Up was like watching the bastard child of Notting Hill and Bridget Jones’ Diary, with Rory Kinnear, of whom more in a moment, playing the manic equivalent of Rhys Ifans‘ character Spike. I’ve just had the grim feeling that it might have been pitched like that.) Even the location has a Curtis-like nod to London’s South Bank.Sometimes you watch films more or less by mistake. I happened to be in the front room prepping a presentation while my wife was watching
The premise (slight spoiler): Nancy (the American actress Lake Bell, with an entirely credible English accent) ends up on a blind date with Jack (Simon Pegg) because she happens to be in the right place at the wrong time with the right book. Rom-coms have their own rhythm: the couple have to be suspicious of each other, then they have to like each other, then they have to be exasperated with other, and then they have to end up together.
The Observer‘s Jonathan Romney hated it, but there are things to like about Man Up. The characters aren’t that young, or that glamorous (this is not One Fine Day). The film gets more edgy as it goes along, driven by Lake Bell, who does kooky very well. There’s something pleasing about the fact that the action unfolds in almost exactly 24 hours, since you don’t get many films that observe any of Aristotle’s unities. The script moves along quickly. And the jeopardy gets worse as they end up bumping into Jack’s ex-wife and new boyfriend in a favourite restaurant.
This leads to the moment: the film’s midpoint. In his book Into the Woods, which I’m reading and enjoying at the moment, John Yorke talks about the midpoint as “the point from which there is no going back… A new ‘truth’ dawns on our hero for the first time. But… at this stage in the story they don’t know how to handle it correctly.”
Jack ends up crying in the (men’s) toilets after seeing his ex-wife, and Nancy goes after him. It’s a surprisingly tender moment, but it also has something of the Greek chorus about it. This extract is from Tess Morris’ screenplay, which is online.
JACK: I’m 40, divorced and crying in a toilet.
NANCY: You’re just an emotional jigsaw at the moment. You’ll piece yourself back together again. (She squeezes his hand.) Just start with the corners. Look for the blue bits. (Jack smiles, squeezes Nancy’s hand back.)
JACK: And where do I find these blue bits?
(They lock eyes. Oh my god, are they going to kiss? Maybe? Yes? Nearly)
TOILET MAN 1 (O.S.) Took me 3 years to get over my ex.
(They look up to see TOILET MAN 1, looking down at them from the next cubicle.)
TOILET MAN 1 (to Jack and Nancy) Jungian Therapy. Two hours, every day, for six weeks.
(Suddenly, another man pops up next to him)
TOILET MAN 2 (madness in his eyes) I burnt her clothes. Twice.
(Jack and Nancy’s ‘moment’ is over.)
This is how it plays on screen. It’s the moment when she wrests control of their relationship from him, and stops being on the defensive.
Oh yes, Rory Kinnear. He plays a barman, Sean, who happened to have been at school with Nancy, and has had a crush on her all these years. You should love your minor characters, says the screenwriting teacher Robert McKee, and Tess Morris poured a lot of love into Sean. Rory Kinnear plays him just this side of obsessive danger. As in this clip, towards the end of the film, when Jack realises that Sean is the only person he knows that might be able to help him find Nancy again.