Synopsis – Two corporate executive assistants hatch a plan to match-make their two bosses.
My Take – Over the years, romantic comedies have fall into the category of being extremely predictable, plus there are so many of them, with similar story lines, it has become quite hard to distinguish between them. Sure, the genre gave us some massive hits, but there have been so many misses in the past decade, it comes as no surprise that big studios refuse to shell out anything on them, irrespective of whoever is involved. While I am not defending the idea that this film from director Claire Scanlon, deserved a big screen release, other than being Netflix‘s most recent features, instead I am subtly confessing to the idea that there is a specific kind of pleasure that comes from watching a film that knows exactly what it wants to be, and this film is one such perfectly calibrated example.
Mainly as it doesn’t attempt to step outside its genre tropes, instead seems contend in delivering the right kind of entertainment in the same old way. Reuniting Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell after the excellent Everybody Wants Some (2016) in lead roles, this low frills, high-chemistry rom-com, which has been gaining quiet viral energy since its Netflix-only debut on June 15, and relaxing with a shocking 94 % on Rotten Tomatoes, delightfully happens to be yet another ideal and low-stakes weekend night watch. Is it cheesy? Yes, especially towards the end and is it the best film I’ve watched lately? Absolutely not! But trust me if you are into old school rom coms you won’t regret adding this charming little film to your list.
The story follows Harper (Zoey Deutch) and Charlie (Glen Powell), two young and ambitious yet overworked and underappreciated assistants working for two very special brand of pushy and domineering bosses. While Harper’s boss Kirsten (Lucy Liu), is an admirable sports reporter, she is also mercilessly competitive and career driven, while Charlie’s demanding investment banker employer Rick (Taye Diggs), is a divorced, selfish and has some serious rage issues. As the two overworked assistants work in the same office building, on different floors, a late night coincidental meeting between Harper and Charlie leads to a scheme that will eventually end up earning themselves some extra free time.
The plan is to get their bosses to start dating each other and since they manage their bosses’ schedules and know virtually everything about them, and it’s not long before Harper and Charlie are playing matchmakers. Despite some early hurdles, Harper and Charlie guide their bosses along every step of the way. Kristen and Rick are far from an ideal pairing, but thanks to Harper and Charlie’s coaching, they hit it off. However, Harper and Charlie spend more and more time together, becoming close friends as they successfully trick their bosses into falling in fake love, while they themselves possibly experience something real, despite the fact that Charlie is dating Suze (Joan Smalls), a vapid model and Harper has a potential new Tinder love interest (Jake Robinson) on the horizon.
Yes, the premise of the film is very simple and the plot also develops along predicable lines, yet despite the lack of originality, the film is still mostly watchable. While you may get concerned about the workplace bullying, the energy of the story and the characters of the two assistants and their natural on-screen chemistry just hooks you on. They’re instantly likable individually and even more so when sharing a scene. Any successful rom-com hinges on the compatibility of its leads. Luckily, that’s not an issue here, with both potential couples gelling or not gelling just as intended. It’s the energy of all four key characters that keeps the film alive, thanks to the odd piece of witty writing or amusing situation. I think I only rolled my eyes once at some ultra-corny moment that could have been avoided, but beyond that, director Claire Scanlon works gently and fairly with her characters.
Yes, the film loses a bit of its pep in its second half, as the film zooms toward inevitable conclusions. But what it lacks in originality in its romantic arcs, it makes up for with some unexpectedly strong friendship dynamics, especially in Harper’s sisterly relationship with her roommate Becca (Meredith Hagner). It also feels different from other recent films that have tried to reinvent the rom com after several factors left it gasping for breath, this one doesn’t try too hard to innovate and I guess that’s what makes for a great rom com. Though the film isn’t exactly a Meta romantic comedy, director Claire Scanlon clearly has a deep knowledge and appreciation for the genre.
While Katie Silberman’s script leans into some tropes while subverting others, like there’s a gay best friend (Pete Davidson), the protagonists’ close friends, whom they could rely on to point out that they were actually in love with the other lead character and the most popular, grand gesture, which often sees a breathless rush to the airport to stop someone from boarding a plane, and of course it’s set in New York City, but for the most part always seems to know when it’s doing which. When the film toys with the tropes, it does so gently, as we see Harper wearing sweats and eating and crying while watching something, but when the camera pans around we realize it’s not a weepy romance, it’s a football game.
The film also dabbles in the physical comedy realm with a standout scene at the beginning setting the tone of the film, with various assistants anxiously rushing around to complete the most ridiculous tasks they’ve been given by their employers. With some great little moments of physical comedy. In terms of bucking rom-com conventions, the only real misstep is Charlie’s disappointingly one-note model girlfriend, who never feels like anything other than an obstacle. The film gets what it’s like to be a millennial — the economic insecurity, the small apartments, the presumption that a good romantic partner is as much a friend as a lover. Though the film splits its time between Charlie and Harper, it’s clearly far more interested in its female characters than its male ones, and the film feels most original when it’s exploring the lives of career-focused women in 2018. “When my mom was my age she had me. I’ve never even had a boyfriend,” Harper notes at one point with a mixture of bemusement and something resembling relief. Harper sees Kirsten as both a boss to be feared and a trailblazing mentor to be admired, and the nuances of their complex relationship are as interesting, if not more so, than her budding friendship with Charlie.
Sure, the film has some flaws here and there, but it is a confident, competent effort from prolific TV comedy director Claire Scanlon, who’s had plenty of experience on rom-com TV shows like The Mindy Project and Selfie as well as Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Here, director Scanlon blends the lower-key hangout vibe of ‘90s rom-coms like When Harry Met Sally and Four Weddings and a Funeral with the glossy, heightened aesthetic of drab fares like 27 Dresses and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. There are a few moments where the comedy goes a bit too broad, but they’re thankfully few and far between, and a delightfully strange bit part played by Tituss Burgess helps sell even the film’s weakest scene. The film works because it knows the long line of rom coms it comes from. The joke, we know from the start, is that while Harper and Charlie think they’re creating a romantic comedy, they’re actually in one, and from their own meet-cute we have a pretty good idea about what’s going to happen.
Of course, all this wouldn’t have been possible if Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell weren’t so likable and didn’t match so wonderfully as this pair of overworked assistants and even knowing where this whole thing is headed, it’s a joy just to watch them drunkenly eat pizza together on a bedroom floor. There’s an earnestness to what they bring to the screen. Lucy Liu also seems to be having the time of her life here. Whether she’s passive-aggressively flipping her high ponytail, strutting through her office in a perfectly tailored bright red pantsuit, or exposing the layers of vulnerability beneath Kirsten’s chilly demeanor, Liu throws herself into the role with zeal. Taye Diggs too seems to be having fun playing against type as a character who’s as bullishly aggressive as he is suave. Diggs isn’t given as much meaty material as Liu, but he does well in whatever he has. On the whole, ‘Set It Up‘ is a breezy and lighthearted romp that hardly reinvents the genre, yet ends up being a totally delightful watch.
Directed – Claire Scanlon
Rated – PG15
Run Time – 105 minutes