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04/28/15 10:26am
04/28/2015 10:26 AM |

Man-Up

Remember when romantic comedies used to come out in theaters? Like, a lot of theaters? All at once? As recently as 2010, something like Valentine’s Day could make bank by positioning itself as a rom-com Avengers before Avengers even existed, but in the last few years they’ve all but disappeared from the release schedule beyond the occasional dude-centric take that markets itself as a long-overdue corrective to all that girl stuff. Truthfully, much of that girl stuff, at least of recent vintage, has been appalling, but it’s nonetheless strange when big studios shuck off a whole genre. Indies have taken over some of this territory, to the point where last summer’s entirely accessible and mainstream-friendly What If got a specialty-house release, seemingly just because it had English accents and Zoe Kazan (and also: girl stuff!). Similarly (and similarly British), Man Up, which premiered at the just-concluded Tribeca Film Festival, has only its modest scale and just-barely-foreign locale to mark it as anything less than a big-studio-grade romantic comedy. It’s got recognizable faces (Lake Bell, doing the best Fake Brit since Gwyneth Paltrow; and genuine Brit Simon Pegg), a farcical premise (Pegg mistakes Bell for his blind date, and she just goes with it), and hacky music cues (seriously: “Bad to the Bone,” for no discernible reason). It’s also fairly charming, not least in its modest 88-minute running time and taming of its wackier instincts. When Bell first decides to deceive Pegg, she feels her way through the contrivance with a low-key authenticity—she’s real-world funny, not mugging-lunatic funny. As silly as the premise is, the movie makes it reasonably convincing for as long as it needs to—and doesn’t string it out for that long, thankfully.

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02/11/15 9:00am
02/11/2015 9:00 AM |

Photo courtesy of RLJE/Image Entertainment Films

The Rewrite
Directed by Marc Lawrence
Opens February 13

Marc Lawrence has directed four features to date; all of them are rom-coms starring Hugh Grant as a well-off urbanite. In Two Weeks Notice (2002), Grant’s a real-estate tycoon who falls for his new chief counsel (Sandra Bullock); in Music and Lyrics (2007), he’s a faded pop star who writes a song with the charming girl (Drew Barrymore) who waters his plants; in Did You Hear About the Morgans? (2009), he’s a lawyer trying to win back his wife (Sarah Jessica Parker); and in The Rewrite, Lawrence’s new movie, he’s Keith Michaels, a past-his-prime Hollywood screenwriter who travels cross-country to take a teaching gig at Binghamton University. One gets the sense that Lawrence and Grant will stop working together once the former has run out of ideas for swanky professions with which to match his favorite actor.

Across these movies, Grant has practiced a bumbling, stammering comic persona: his principal physical moves include pleading hand gestures, hunched-forward hesitations, and lip-licking pauses. These tics reached a kind of atrocious apex in Morgans, in which Grant scrambles so hard to land each joke that he hardly ever appears to be making actual eye contact with Parker. His register is complemented much more satisfyingly by Barrymore’s mellow, down-to-earth presence in Music and Lyrics—still Lawrence and Grant’s fleetest and most winning endeavor.

In theory, The Rewrite’s pairing of Grant with the breezy Marisa Tomei (as a student/single mom/waitress/bookstore clerk) is ideal, but the surrounding details sour the movie. Lawrence, surprisingly for a real-life Binghamton graduate, provides an awfully regrettable depiction of college life: Keith’s LA-to-campus town trek is treated—like the Manhattan-to-Wyoming journey of Morgans—with a condescending, this-place-is-lame attitude. (The sideline characterizations are also problematic: the most talented student in Keith’s class is a perpetual sneezer who tells Keith, “I aspire to nerd.”)

Grant’s character is out of whack, too: his comments at a faculty party paint him as a cracked misogynist—an impression that’s confirmed when he chooses his class roster according to how attractive he finds the social-media photos of potential students. Considering that Grant—now 54 and graying—often seems tired throughout the movie, as if he were sick of his own shtick, these off-putting character traits might have at least made for compelling psychological viewing. But Lawrence softens the man up, leaving precious little for Tomei to do in the process. Danny King