(*Spoilers at end in marked section*)
After the mess that was The Kissing Booth (which I have yet to review but probably will soon), Netflix has managed to save the dying genre of rom-coms with their new flick, Set It Up, starring Zoey Deutch (Harper), Glen Powell (Charlie), Taye Diggs (Rick), and Lucy Liu (Kirsten). The movie is about two overworked, utterly burned out assistants, Harper and Charlie, who decide to play matchmaker to their bosses, Kirsten and Rick respectively, to get a break.
Rom-coms has always been one of my favorite genres because it’s just light-hearted fluff, but since the boom in the 80s to 00s, it has started to die out in the 10s. You don’t find them on the big screen that often, and when you do, they’re rarely done well. They have been struggling hard. Thankfully, Netflix has veered away from Hallmark-level romance films (The Christmas Prince, I’m looking at you) and released something enjoyable that I see myself revisiting almost as often as I revisit classics like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and Never Been Kissed.
Set It Up was overall cute and witty with actual chemistry between the couples. There were enough cliches to make you smile in satisfaction and go, “Yes, this is the rom-com I’ve signed up for,” but there were modern and progressive twists given on the usual tropes that were refreshing but not so obviously on the nose. For example, neither of the minority actors was the lead, but they were the leads’ bosses, the ones in power, which I don’t see often in movies. There are two more examples I appreciated. Firstly, the lead woman wants to be a writer (don’t they always) but she wants to be one in sports. Her crazy editor (which I’m so over, to be honest) is a leading sports reporter played by Lucy Liu.
Secondly, the woman, Harper, is the one who pushes the man, Charlie, into following a crazy plan rather than the other way around, which is the norm. She’s the active, go-getter while he’s more rigid, straight, and passive. Some minor trope twists are the shallow, manipulative model (but she’s not completely insipid, unintelligent, or money hungry) and the gay best friend (who’s actually friends with the guy rather than the girl this time around). Minor details, but I noticed and appreciated all of them. I think they helped to make this a refreshing watch that’s also more relevant to this time than past rom-coms may be.
Keeping in tune with how Set It Up sets up the perfect rom-com, it goes back to the classines of the originals where it’s not about hooking up. Rom-coms started to veer down that way, and it was refreshing at first, but also grew old fast. There’s a reason the classics are classics–they were about an emotional connection beyond the physical, but the order had switched in more modern ones. While accurate, relevant to modern times, and still fun at times, it is not as sweet or charming. This can be a personal preference, though, as I’m a sucker for more “innocent” tales.
The writing was refreshing, and I loved a lot of the lines and humor. The most relatable line ever was when Harper’s best friend gets engaged and Harper’s first reaction is to breathe, “But we’re too young to get married.” That’s the most relatable line I have heard from a film in years (they’re twenty-five by the way).
There were definitely some cheesy parts. Not all of the humor comes through, like the elevator scene. I really did not like that scene–it just felt forced, awkward, and flat. Overall, though, the humor and quirkiness of the characters offset any of the less impressive scenes and moments, especially thanks to the talented actors.
The casting was done very well. It was refreshing to see Lucy Liu outside of her rather bland Watson in Elementary. She’s charming and charismatic here. As a foil of sorts, Zoey Deutch does a great job at playing the quirky, adorkable, and sweet Harper. Her chemistry with Glen Powell flows very naturally in the film; I enjoyed the energy he brought to the film, as well. I felt that Taye Diggs got the short end of the stick with his character, as I found Rick to be the least developed and fleshed out.
I think both the writing and the acting helped to avoid a predictable, cheesy conflict near the end of Set It Up. I was waiting for the awkward tension that always arises near the end in rom-coms as a form of conflict, but the argument or confrontation was surprisingly well done and natural (there’s an extra in that scene who’s hilarious, by the way).
The ending, in which everything gets resolved, was indeed cute. Of course this is a rom-com so you can expect a rather predictable ending (which is why I don’t consider this part a spoiler), but I still thought it was refreshing and super sweet. Love was overall done in a cute and classy way in Set It Up. I really like the theme throughout based on the quote of “You like because and you love despite.”
I do have a few qualms. While the chemistry was there, I was not convinced by the end that the two leads truly loved each other–I would still say they are deep within the like stage, so I would liked to have seen more of their “love” beforehand. The ending was also a bit abrupt and lacked closure for the second leads. Their storyline was rather brushed over in a hasty ending (I’ll get more into that in the upcoming spoiler section).
I really liked Set It Up! I watched it once through then left it on in the background two more times (on different days), for a total count of three–so that’s me testing its rewatchability value (yes that’s a thing now) and giving it a 7 out of 10! Overall, I would love to give the movie an 8 out of 10, but to be more objective, I would say the overall quality was more of a 7.
Now time for the part of the review in which I can reveal spoilers! You’ve been warned!
Back to the ending, Set It Up was too tidy and convenient on Kirsten’s part and practically nonexistent on Rick’s part, so that was a disappointment (give Taye more). They were trying to make Kirsten seem like a bad cop who wanted Harper to live up to her potential, but that comes from left field. The movie was trying too hard to redeem her character and make her seem like a good person in the end. We don’t really see her trying to help out Harper at all, rather Harper is overworked doing irrelevant things like getting her coffee just the way she likes it, so I don’t really buy the tough love thing. Especially as Kirsten says she saw potential in Harper, but again, we never see that potential from Harper, and the character herself admits she hasn’t written in years from being too busy with assisting Kirsten, so when and how did Kirsten ever see that potential?
What’s worse is how Rick’s character was handled. He gets no redemption whatsoever. I am glad he’s cast aside because he showed signs of being an abusive partner throughout. He is all bravado over the Korean BBQ incident, which I absolutely hate seeing in men, and he’s violent in the workplace. Also, he’s just okay with outright cheating and only shows signs of kindness when he’s drunk. Yes, he’s a terrible person, but that’s it? That’s just how he ends? He gets no comeuppance. He’s not torn up about Kirsten leaving him. He gets no redemption because we don’t see him becoming a better person, rather he attempts to make things right with his ex but gets shunned and left in the dark by Charlie and gets coffee thrown at him by Charlie’s roommate. That’s neither comeuppance nor redemption; he’s really just left hanging at the end.
I also feel like Harper is taken off the hook way too easily. Even though the whole scheme was her idea, in the end, Charlie loses more than she. He also, admittedly, gains more by ultimately not becoming a jerk like his boss and leaving his girlfriend, but Harper sets it all up and ends up on the path of becoming the writer she always wanted to be. She gets everything she ever wanted. She does redeem herself by taking it upon herself to tell Kirsten the truth immediately, which I admire and which gets her fired, but she’s so easily forgiven by Kirsten that I really don’t think she loses anything in the process at all.
We see her grow and develop only as a writer–otherwise, her plan to manipulate two people to fall in love is all in the past. Doesn’t her plan say something about her character? Nope, she’s too cute and quirky to stay mad at (she really is, though). Kudos, though, for saving Charlie from a horrible life. The point I mentioned before with his model girlfriend by the way was that she wasn’t really a gold digger because she didn’t jump at the chance of getting with Charlie’s boss or anything despite his showing some attention in her. Rather she looks disgusted, and that, to me, showed that she has some respect and values; yes, she’s superficial and a bit manipulative, but she wasn’t that bad. She had legitimate reasons to be upset with Charlie. Plus, she really could have had better alternatives than him. What was the chance he was going to go from personal assistant to mega-successful analyst after three years stuck in the position? And she actually sticks around to watch the kid’s play. The “you were my backup” line hurts, but overall, we’ve seen way worse in other rom-coms.
Harper’s journey of becoming a writer I really enjoyed, as an aspiring writer myself. I loved how her friend beat her up with a pillow saying, “You’re not a bad writer yet, so finish writing your crappy first draft.” My other favorite scene was when Charlie’s running to the airport to stop the marriage but realizes he has so much time, then he ends up doing what Harper did before the Yankee game. That was hilarious.
Anyway, overall, I recommend you watch Set It Up! You can catch it on Netflix (and if you have an account, maybe check this review for an original series).