Not since Netflix’s The Kissing Booth have I had the chance to roll my eyes all the way to the back of my head in embarrassment. And yet amidst the 105 agonizing minutes I spent with Set It Up, I found myself oddly enough delighting in it. By no means as a sort of B-grade sadomasochistic exercise but rather as a genuine piece in a growing tapestry of 21st-century work-a-day romantic comedies on screen like the likes of He’s Just Not That Into You or No Strings Attached. Perhaps there’s something within the format itself that is novel, if not uniquely within the confines of the film. Does Set It Up have anything new to offer the subgenre or is it another passing ache in one that is growing old and tired? Let’s it break it down.
The plot follows the lives, times and schemes of two overworked and underappreciated assistants Harper Moore and Charlie Young. Harper is assistant to sports journalist legend Kirsten Stevens, an emotionally distant, serial workaholic. Charlie is a junior yuppie to successful businessman Rick who has the emotional maturity of a 10-year-old and the libido of frisky 13-year old. It just so happens that Young and Moore work at the same office and in time the two bonds over their mutual misery. In an attempt to make their lives easier and their bosses a lot less uptight, the two of them conspire to get Kirsten and Rick together. Pretty soon, sparks are starting to fly between the two powerhouses and maybe even their sneaky employees. Secrets are revealed and romantic hijinks ensue, you can probably guess the rest from here on out.
As far as romantic comedies go, I actually dug the plot for the most part. The film definitely dips its toes into Devil Wears Prada realms of over-the-top but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t entertaining. To its detriment and benefit, the film is without a shadow of a doubt a predictable romp. Honestly, I was watching this with some friends and we all made early predictions with regards to the direction the plot and the possible tropes in the film. Sassy Gay/platonic best friend that supports protagonist? Check. Leads learning to find themselves through their shared experiences? Check Contrived conflict surrounding a secret or lie that one of the characters keep? Oh, you bet your ass it’s in there. I even scored a perfect bingo! That being said, this really isn’t a problem as long as you temper your expectations. The film wears its heart on its sleeve when it comes to the premise and in a way, there’s something admirable about it.
One thing that apologists of this subgenre and action film fans have in common is a platitude that you’ve most likely have heard before: Who cares if it’s cliche as long its well-executed? Fair point there. So much of Set It Up hinges on its script and performances. In fact, these two components can be deciding factors for whether a film transcends the trappings of its genre or becomes another forgettable addition. In the first few minutes of the film, Set It Up already colours itself as a contemporary rendition of the subgenre.
It’s fun, it’s light and not particularly thought-provoking. It derives its humour from cutesy wordplay, modern miscommunication, absurd situations and quirky characters. Some of it can be pretty endearing and then there are things like the elevator scene that wears out its welcome upon arrival. No one acts like that in real life! A part of me wishes these abused assistants had a moment of meaningful confrontation beyond the near-end comeuppance. It’s almost as if the film is hesitant to address these issues in fear of breaking its tone. A warranted concern but one that betrays the film’s limited nature.
Don’t look to acting here either to be this film’s coup de gras. Everyone here is playing a caricature of some sort, and I mean EVERYONE. Zoey Deutch Harper plays the plucky junior who can’t catch a break and also doesn’t know how beautiful she is inside and outside. Glenn Powell as Charlie Young is your headstrong junior exec trying to make a name for himself while keeping it altogether. They become less stale though when they function in tandem as a couple. Lucy Liu does her best Miranda Priestly impression, bringing a commendable and fierce energy to her performance. Even if she can never quite topple queen-b Meryl Streep. By far, Taye Diggs as the professional, promiscuous man-child has got to be one of the more forgettable characters here. There really isn’t much for Diggs to work with and his character arc with his ex-wife fails to give us any sort of emotional attachment to him. In fact, at some point, he’s the de facto villain of this story.
Set It Up is a pleasant, serviceable romantic comedy that’s sure to make some underpaid intern somewhere out there happy. For the rest of us, it’s a mostly middling affair with plenty of heart and not nearly enough tricks in its bag. Still, there is some genuine fun to be had with Set It Up. I’d recommend watching it with some friends on the weekend with the caveat of playing romantic trope Bingo, you’ll have a blast. Set It Up is available for streaming on Netflix!
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Set It Up
Set It Up is a predictable, two-dimensional romantic comedy that comfortably works within its limited range to squeeze out as much heart as it can. It is at least transparent if not transcendent in its premise.
Set It Up