Set It Up (2018)
Director: Claire Scanlon
Screenwriter: Katie Silberman
Starring: Zoey Deutch, Glen Powell, Lucy Liu, Taye Diggs
If there’s one thing that audiences from the 2010s seem to have had enough of in the world of cinema, it’s rom-coms. A genre that once enticed the talents of critically and financially successful actors and directors alike is now almost super-glued to the bottom of the barrel, producing tiresome productions that are either bordering on offensive or vastly unfunny, the likes of which we either role our eyes at or dismiss entirely ahead of ever seeing. And those stars such films once had? Well, they’re gone – they’re long gone. Yet, despite all the odds and all of Netflix’s failings in the Netflix Original Movies boom of 2018 – The Clapper and Ibiza particularly – Claire Scanlon’s Set It Up has quietly established itself as an utterly watchable, actually funny, almost self-aware romantic comedy that may go to prove that should you throw enough money at something, eventually you’ll get your just rewards. Set It Up is hardly testing material but it certainly has a lot going for it; perhaps even more than you may first expect.
Telling the tale of a pair of personal assistants who connect while attempting to work their way up the economic and professional ladder in a rough world of business and enterprise, Set It Up is written with a level of contemporary relevance that keeps the movie in touch with the members of Generation Y & Z (that are so often wrongly tagged as Millennials) for a youthful and modern take on the genre that then flips the typical meet-cute formula into the realm of comedy via an absurdist plot centred around their goal to romantically entwine their two love-lost bosses.
Ever so delicately tackling the plight of the modern young professional, Katie Silberman’s debut feature film script is filled with moments of cringe-worthy and/or anxiety inducing encounters and situations littered with exchanges of dialogue that’ll bring a smile to your face, but don’t worry about feeling like you’re watching a movie about your own life being a bummer because it all works out fine. Remember, this is a rom-com!
Perhaps most impressive about the script as far as dialogue, setting and presentation go, is the level of knowledge and passion the creative pair of Silberman and director Claire Scanlon (‘GLOW’, ‘The Goldbergs’, ‘The Office’) clearly had for the rom-com genre, as Set It Up was a film filled with winks and nods to the audience that indicated a self-reflective version of the tried and tested genre that poked fun at the tropes while effectively reinforcing them in an almost post-modern genre presentation that enhanced the picture beyond being just another bad romantic comedy and into something altogether more enjoyable and praiseworthy, at least in its intentions.
Vitally, there was a strong modern feminist undercurrent running through the film that was best illustrated by the script’s confrontation of gender stereotypes often at play in the genre, and this truly added layers of intelligence and wit to much of the movie, with lead actress Zoey Deutch benefiting from the opportunity to portray a character (Harper) more rounded than those typically found in the lowest of the low “let’s find a man” romantic comedies that seem to have given the genre a bad name. Lucy Liu’s Kirsten also seems to be in a position of power within the narrative, controlling her could-be relationship to Taye Diggs’ Rick and being a statement in of herself by being a high ranking, self-made sports journalist turned magazine founder and editor. It was refreshing, modern, progressive cinema found in the most unexpected of places, even in spite of its eventual reinforcement of the hetero-normative relationships at the centre of almost every romantic comedy ever.
Set It Up is romantic and funny, which for a movie of a genre titled “rom-com” shouldn’t be as noteworthy as it actually is, yet without doing all that much in terms of sound, picture or performance, it has offered more than 95% of mainstream romantic comedies have offered this decade, updating the genre from the doldrums of its own outdated concept into something slightly more palatable for the modern-day twenty-somethings. Set It Up is one of those films you won’t hate and may even grow to love, so give it a chance next time you’re on the world’s most popular streaming platform, because it’s unlikely you’ll be disappointed.