After watching Netflix's latest stab at the long-plagued rom-com genre, I've come to the following conclusion: If the streaming service needs to harvest my viewing data to deliver a good romantic comedy once in a while, well, that is a price I am willing to pay (along with $8 a month).
On Friday, Netflix released Set It Up, a rom-com as good as any that I’ve seen in the past decade. The movie pays its due respects to the rom-coms of yesteryear (complete with a denouement airport scene) while remaining unmistakably rooted in 2018.
Directed by Claire Scanlon (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Fresh Off the Boat), the film follows two overworked, under-appreciated assistants who meet in their shared office lobby while working late. Harper (Zoey Deutch), an aspiring sports journalist, works for the talented but demanding Kirsten (Lucy Liu), a high-profile sports reporter turned media mogul. Charlie (Glen Powell) plays the assistant to a successful, but unhinged, venture capitalist Rick (Taye Diggs). In an attempt to make their lives easier, Harper and Charlie concoct the ultimate plan: to set their bosses up. While Kirsten and Rick are off having sex, neither assistant will be subjected to their bosses’ beck and call. Sounds peachy, doesn’t it?
Deutch and Powell both dole out solid, likable performances – a few reviews I’ve come across even dare to label them the next Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. The duo, who previously starred together in Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!!, have an undeniable chemistry, in part owing to their characters' easy repartee, courtesy of scriptwriter Katie Silberman.
It is also to Silberman’s credit that Harper and Charlie come across as actual millennials – something which, until now, I'd been unaware I was itching to see in a romantic comedy. At one point Harper says to Charlie, "When my mom was my age she had me, I’ve never even had a boyfriend." And, when her roommate gets engaged, Harper's first reaction is, "Oh my god! We’re not old enough to get married, though." If I haven't heard my friends utter these exact same sentiments...
With the help of Tituss Burgess, Pete Davidson, and Meredith Hagner, Set It Up also peppers in a few laudable supporting characters. The one time I teared up, and the few times I laughed out loud, all stemmed from performances of the supporting cast (though, admittedly Davidson's portrayal as Charlie's gay roommate feels like a reversive punchline).
Liu, in turn, gives us a complex (at least by rom-com standards) depiction of a high-powered, unmarried career woman. In one telling exchange, Harper says she's gone ahead and preemptively canceled an invitation Kirsten received to attend a baby shower. The media executive surprises Harper, saying she actually wants to attend the shower.
"Well, I'll finally have something that they’ll want to talk about," states Kirsten, referring to her newly-minted relationship with Rick, and not, say, her insanely successful media career.
At its core, Set It Up is a romantic comedy that is perfectly comfortable being labeled as such. It's not on Netflix to be edgy or to win Oscars or to uproot the genre entirely, it's here to be comfortable, easy viewing for a targeted group of people who simply love to watch people fall in love. And, if that means me and my microcluster get to watch a genuinely fun rom-com once in a while, well, baby, there ain't nothing wrong with that.