Why ‘Set It Up’ Is The RomCom Everybody Needs Right Now
By Jillian Davis
It’s been some time since we as a society have been privy to a truly excellent romantic comedy movie experience. It seems like it’s been so long since we’ve enjoyed the classics such as When Harry Met Sally, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and Ten Things I Hate About You. It’s a classic boy meets girl, boy and girl are convinced they hate each other, then realize they don’t necessarily hate each other, then come to the conclusion that they are completely, irrevocably in love with one another. It’s a plotline that has been so played out, it’s no wonder the genre was laid to rest sometime in the early 2000s.
Someone call for a defibrillator, because Netflix's original comedy Set It Up, written by Katie Silberman and directed by Claire Scanlon, has just revived the genre.
What’s particularly great about this film is that it’s very much a classic love story written for millennials, without being overbearing about representing the generation that it’s trying to impress. It starts with the two main leads, good-natured, innocent Harper (played by Zoey Deutch) and ambitious investment shark-wannabe Charlie (played by Glen Powell). A lot of driven millennials will recognize the dreamy, cinematic version of their world in Set It Up-- urban-habitating young people who search for true love on their phones and work long hours without any health insurance. They’ve picked their difficult career paths, and have done an excellent job of convincing themselves that they need only latch onto and perfectly impress their insane bosses in order to make it to the top.
Harper wants to be a sports writer for her demanding boss Kirsten’s website startup, but has instead fallen into a comfortably uncomfortable job as her overworked assistant. On the one hand, Harper hates staying at the office until well after midnight, but on the other hand, she has the utmost respect for her boss, who has managed to claw her way to the top of a male-dominated field while running her own company.
Charlie, on the other hand, works for the abrasive and competitive Rick, who is an investment executive that works in the same building as Kirsten and Harper. He’s struggling to gain the kind of power, money, and respect that Rick has secured over the years, all the while trying to please his shallow supermodel girlfriend.
Intro the true love story of the film: Harper and Charlie. They are introduced in true meet-cute fashion when Harper tries to pick up her and Kirsten’s late night dinner, but is short on money when she realizes that the restaurant she’s ordered from is cash-only. Charlie, who also happens to be desperate for dinner for his boss Rick, happens to swoop in with a wad of cash, and takes the meal.
From there, the two overworked assistants argue over who has it worse, and they soon bond over their mutual lack of lives outside work and demanding employers. It’s here that Harper has a brilliant idea-- why not formulate the ultimate meet-cute for their bosses so that they can form a relationship and allow their assistants to have some free time? After some missteps, the two finally get their respective employers together, and they’re very happy to have the free time. Things start to go awry when Harper and Charlie discover that it’s not enough to create the verisimilitude of their bosses simply starting a relationship, they need to interfere on a regular basis in order to maintain it as well.
Without giving too much away, this film has everything-- moral dilemmas, a dramatic breakup (not going to say who), a passionate and public declaration at an airport, and an adorable confession of feelings at the end.
The film could have done a better job of writing in more non-white and LGBTQ diversity, which is made up mostly of stars Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs as the bosses, and Pete Davidson playing Charlie’s roommate and best friend who frequently has one night stands with strange men. Additionally, Harper and Charlie work jobs that notoriously pay poorly (Harper even mentions this several times in the film) and yet they live in beautiful, well decorated apartments with plenty of space and excellent lighting. While it’s a poor representation of the living situation of most urban millennials, it is a fictionalized version of the world.
Aside from those flaws, Set It Up does justice to romantic comedy films. It breathes new life into the love/hate narrative by introducing clever new ways for Charlie and Harper to find love and appreciation in how different they are. Charlie could easily be an unlikeable character, and he is for part of the film, but he uses his quick wit and hardened exterior to protect Harper, who opens him up to the possibility that he’s not doing what he wants, and should always do the right thing. Set It Up is a great comedy about two people who fall in love while trying to make two other people fall in love, and learning that such relationships cannot be forced, but felt.
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About the Author
Jillian Davis is a writer, podcaster, and cyberstalker based in Los Angeles. She loves all things Jane Austen, John Mulaney, delicious food, and overpriced coffee. She can often be found with her head in the clouds or hanging around comedy clubs. But like, in a totally normal and cool way.