The new Netflix romcom Set It Up embraces the tropes of the genre with a warm hug and also manages to stick the landing on a clever premise.
From the first moments — hell, even before you begin watching the movie — you know these two leads are going to fall for each other. While leaning hard into this trope, the movie has something else going for it entirely and that is its premise.
As it starts out, these leads are the supporting characters in their own story, which is the story of making their bosses fall in love. And in this concept, the movie doubles as an ode to those assistants working endless hours, doing menial and sometimes impossible tasks just to pay the bills and please a boss who may never give them the recognition they crave.
The two assistants at the center are Harper (Zoey Deutch), who works for a high-profile sports magazine editor, Kirsten (Lucy Liu), and Charlie (Glen Powell), who works for an influential and powerful venture capitalist, Rick (Taye Diggs). Even when other assistants are going home at a reasonable hour, Harper and Charlie are still stuck at their desks waiting for the moment of sweet release for the evening — usually very late evening — from their respective bosses. The two happen to work in the same building, inevitably meet, foster a blooming friendship and hatch a plan to set their bosses up.
What Harper and Charlie realize is they control these people’s lives, from where they go each day to what they eat, what they like and dislike, and with this knowledge, they can puppeteer Kirsten and Charlie into being at the same place at the same time and hopefully get them to strike up a connection. It’s totally far-fetched, but the script from Katie Silberman is insightful enough about the inner-workings of the assistant world to the point that somehow this wild plan seems feasible.
And crazy enough, it ends up working. Harper and Charlie find themselves getting let off early and finally having some time to figure out their own lives. Unfortunately, what they begin to discover about themselves isn’t that pretty. Charlie is dating a model who he probably knows deep down isn’t the one for him, and Harper begins acknowledging that though she wants to be a writer, she hasn’t written anything. When you have a 24-hour job to distract you, this self-care of looking inward slips to the wayside.
As the bosses begin dating, however, it allows Harper and Charlie to get to know each other — and themselves — better. From this comes some surprisingly sincere moments of self-actualization outside the bounds of the usual tropes you’d find in a romcom.
Zoey Deutch (Before I Fall) and Glen Powell (Everybody Wants Some!!) are wonderfully matched as this pair of overworked assistants and even knowing where this whole thing is headed, it’s a joy just to watch them drunkenly eat pizza together on a bedroom floor. There’s an earnestness to what they bring to the screen. Lucy Liu is a notable standout as the razor-tongued Kirsten who, in the same vein as Meryl Streep’s Miranda in The Devil Wears Prada, ends up revealing vulnerabilities in her character that are unexpected and welcomed. She and Taye Diggs as Rick also have some fun chemistry once they start sharing the screen.
What’s best about Set It Up is that it doesn’t forget to follow through on its initial concept. The movie circles back to assistant life once all the romantic courtship starts landing into place. While embracing the typical story beats of the romcom, and it does embrace them very whole-heartedly, the third act reminds us how the story started. Harper and Charlie might end up finding each other, but they also realize important lessons about their careers and getting what they really want out of life and, well, love, because we are still inside the genre after all.
It feels like Netflix has been churning out movies like these at least once a week now, dumping cliche-ridden genre fare for subscribers to mindlessly click on and watch with their brain turned off. While this one could definitely be watched that way, I would implore viewers to really watch this one. It’s worth it, and it’s a cut above the other original films you might find on the service.