Step 1 in any spontaneous writing is to convince yourself someone else in the world wants to hear your views on whatever the topic is. Step 2 is convincing yourself there’s something interesting to say on whatever the topic is. Genres are the most efficient ways of processing something, because a genre is a kind of meta-analysis of things whose specific analyses show share certain characteristics, and that provides an easy starting point – Warm Bodies is interesting because it’s a rom-com where one half of the rom is dead, and that’s interesting because death is less of an impediment to their relationship than class is in Say Anything or age is in Manhattan. But all too frequently there’s a straight pitch down the line within a genre where the overwhelming comment to make is simply that it properly belongs in the genre, and Man Up is one of those. Two moderately attractive people of roughly the same age with a bit of quirk but no genuine eccentricity meet, find out they like each other, and end the film together. Blimey, if I don’t concentrate on remembering it exists, it fades from memory quicker than you can say “inevitable happy ending”.
The IMDB tracks films, genres, actors, whatever, by the number of clicks received and Man Up is currently second in the popularity stakes after Focus, with a rating presently of 6.8. A quick survey of films it thinks are “Romantic Comedies”, a mid-to-high 6 is a pretty good rating. The only romantic comedies in the IMDB top-250 is Annie Hall, which is also one of only two comedies to win the Best Picture Academy Award (the other, debatable, comedy is the Artist), and Some Like It Hot. Critical ratings favour serious and weighty matters, and certain genres are very much in the ascendance – it’s going to take a pretty strong argument to convince me that Goodfellas is a better film than Annie Hall. The preponderance of recent super-hero films in the top-250 is also surely an aberration. We collectively have weighed the romantic comedy and found it wanting, but is the work McConaughey doing in Interstellar better than the performance he gave in Tropic Thunder, or How to Lose a guy in 10 days, or are we just conditioned to dismiss comedy as frivolity. Tropic Thunder in my mind should have garnered up acting plaudits and awards for Robert Downey Jnr and Tom Cruise, and McConaughey was pitch-perfect.
Even Shakespeare gets the high hat when it comes to comedy. The great thespians of our age flock to Lear, MacBeth, Hamlet, Othello – but where is the rush to play Shakespeare’s greatest character, Falstaff? In the Reduced Shakespeare Company edition of the complete works they devote more time to Titus Andronicus than to the totality of Shakespeare’s comedies. Of course, that’s partially the joke, but it’s a joke hitting pretty close to a real target. Overall, Aristophanes may be the only comedian in Western Civilisation ™ who’s gotten his just dues, with more surviving plays than Sophocles and Aeschylus combined.
To return to our topic, Man Up is that most admirable creation: a workmanlike and solidly constructed Romantic Comedy that flawlessly hits the beats from the genre template without ever becoming unbearably cringe-inducing, rage-inducing, silly, or overly contrived. It believes the same things that the genre has always believed, but it believes them about characters marginally older than the genre standard. It doesn’t innovate, it doesn’t extend, it doesn’t interrogate its genre. It’s fine. If your regard for the genre is high, I’d give this 4-stars.