Nancy is 34 years old. She doesn’t have a boyfriend. This is all we know about her, but honestly, do we really need to know anything else about a woman apart from whether she has done her lady-duty and gotten herself paired off yet? And on the day that she is supposed to be heading to her parents’ 40th-anniversary party, she is distracted by a chance meeting with Jack (Simon Pegg: The Boxtrolls, Hector and the Search for Happiness) at Waterloo railway station in London. Well, it’s not so much a chance meeting: Jack is the guy that Jessica (Ophelia Lovibond: Guardians of the Galaxy, Nowhere Boy), a young woman Nancy met on the train, had arranged to meet for a blind date, but when Jack mistakes Nancy for Jessica and then proves that he is Super Cool by quoting a movie Nancy loves, she has no option but to pretend to Jessica and embark upon an all-day, let’s-run-around-fantasy-London date with him. Literally no other option. What could go wrong? Never mind her parents’ party: her family is inordinately concerned about Nancy’s love life — almost creepily so, in fact — so they’re delighted to presume that she Must Have Met Somebody (what else could delay a single woman?). Also, celebrating such marital bliss is nothing but a slap in the face to the female failure that is Nancy.
I hate movies like this, in which it’s meant to be adorable and kooky when people lie and manipulate in the name of love — because everyone “knows” there are no rules in the rat race of romance; Christ, if you lose that race, you might end up like Nancy. (She mostly seems pretty cool. This would not be a terrible fate. Except the movie thinks it is.) And I hate this particular iteration of the concept with a special vehemence. I love Lake Bell (Mr. Peabody & Sherman, In a World…), and I like her Nancy, but I hate what the film does to her, forcing her deeper into deception out of a pathetic desperation that someone needs to tell her she doesn’t need to feel. Instead, she has to deal with precisely the opposite, people telling her she needs to change, that she’s too “cynical” and that’s why she’s alone, that she’s doing everything in her life wrong. (We actually have no evidence of this whatsoever.) The title, Man Up, is Nancy’s self-help directive to herself. She has “mantras,” like “Engage with life.” Such as stealing another woman’s blind date.
What did she think was going to happen? How did she think this was going to end? Do all her ideas about people come from rom-coms like this one? Did I say I like Nancy? I might have to take that back.