Set It Up (Claire Scanlon, 2018) – Full Original – Romantic Comedy
Set It Up was one of Netflix´s most widely talked about releases of the summer of 2018. It was heavily promoted by the company and genuinely became a cultural talking point, leading to a larger conversation about how Netflix was supposedly helping to revive the romcom (see also the reviews of The Kissing Booth, To All the Boy’s I’ve Loved Before and others). This discussion takes its point of departure from the idea that the Hollywood studios were no longer interested in making romcoms, fixated as they were on superhero blockbusters. This was, after all, a movie the company rescued from the dustbin by picking up the project from MGM, which was set to make the film before original star Emilia Clarke backed out.
There are to my mind a lot of problems with these genre-saving assumptions, not the least of which was the success later that summer of Crazy Rich Asians in theaters, a film which Netflix tried to buy at an early stage only for the producers to opt for a traditional studio release in order to challenge ideas of what constituted marketable films, amongst other reasons.
All that said, there is no denying that Set It Up is a fun, likeable romantic comedy. While male star Glen Powell seemed to me to be at times carved out of Styrofoam, his chemistry with Zoey Deutch is terrific. And Deutch herself is a true star in the making, virtually glowing with charisma whenever she’s on screen. Her Harper is consistently funny, charming and loveable for all kinds of viewers. This for Deutch is the equivalent role to Lindsey Lohan’s turn in Mean Girls or Anne Hathaway’s turn in The Devil Wears Prada. (Whatever you may personally feel about Hathaway, let’s hope Deutch emulates her career and not Lohan’s, if she has to choose.) If she does indeed ascend to stardom, as she should, Netflix can legitimately claim to have played a big part in making that happen.
In ostensibly supporting roles, Taye Diggs and Lucy Liu are scene-stealers and you have to admire Claire Scanlon and (screenwriter) Katie Silberman’s ability to keep them from stealing the whole film by making their romance largely off-screen. There is also an excellent cameo from Titus Burgess and here the film-makers missed a trick by not bringing him back more. One star completely wasted, however, was Pete Davidson who really does nothing and adds no laughs, unless it’s supposed to be funny that he’s gay. His whole role could have been eliminated without making any impact on the movie. In fact, this would have made more time for Burgess’s Creepy Tim.
As funny and enjoyable as the movie is, it has to be said also that it is overrated, in part due to the Netflix publicity machine, which variously compared it to classic romcoms such as When Harry Met Sally or It Happened One Night. This is a good romcom, no doubt, but it doesn’t break the mold in the way those films did (or as did recent films such as The Big Sick or Crazy Rich Asians), nor will any particular scene become as iconic as some of those in these classics, even if the pizza scene or the elevator scene with Diggs and Liu are both memorable. There is still no “I’ll have what she’s having” moment to be found here and you can’t really see this movie appealing to people who aren’t already fans of romcoms, as the great ones always do.
One of the things that makes this film appealing is that many young people in particular will relate to Harper and Charlie’s predicaments as overworked, underpaid schleps. While well-meaning when it comes to satirizing the injustices of the world of lowly assistants, the film is also normalizes that world quite a bit, implying that all young people should aspire to work 20 hour days, eat every meal at their desks and put up with their boss’s caprices because, hey, that’s what you do if you want to be lucky enough to have your own assistants to shit on one day. This is the only truly depressing thing about an otherwise feel-good film.
Underrepresented Groups: Directed by Claire Scanlon, written by Katie Silberman.
Netflix Stars: Titus Burgess of Kimmy Schmidt fame.
Following the success of the film for Netflix, Zoey Deutch was cast in the Ryan Murphy series The Politician. Netflix has also greenlit The Most Dangerous Game, a film that will reunite Deutch and Glen Powell.
Glen Powell also appears in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society.
Pete Davidson also appears in The Dirt.
Studio Leftovers: Bought out of turnaround from MGM.
Conspicuous Product Placement: Major League Baseball and the Yankees in particular. They’re even in the trailer!