With Netflix generating crappy original films in a frenzy almost every week (the global streaming giant aims to produce a total of 80 movies this year alone), the arrival of rom-com Set It Up is jarring. It feels like catching a giant fish after a long no-bite month. Or finally hitting the jackpot. Like a miracle. In fact, a chunk of Twitter raves is lovingly dedicated to this movie, some even touting it as the best since Harry Met Sally.
Set It Up takes us to the suffocating jungle of corporate New York, zooming in on the pathetic lives of two overworked executive assistants, Harper (Zoey Deutch) and Charlie (Glen Powell). The two cute twentysomethings work (no, they practically live) in the same high-rise building, working for psychotic bosses flawlessly played by Lucy Lui and Taye Diggs.
The introduction of these two non-White bosses immediately scream, “Look how this film is so inclusive!” But no matter how self-conscious or in-your face this casting move is, Liu and Diggs, both fiercely intimidating and attractive, are perfect as horrible slave-drivers.
So, Harper and Charlie fall into a familiar rom-com formula: opponents-turned-allies- turned lovers. But how screenwriter Katie Silberman and director Claire Scanlon get us to the lover stage, they entertain us with rapid-fire gags and irresistible charm and hilarious snarkiness from its four main players.
Deutch’s Harper (who, by the way, is a total deadringer for Rose Byrne) and Powell’s Charlie (he’s the astronaut John Glenn in Hidden Figures) meet for the first time in an undefined ungodly hour in the lobby of their office building, with Charlie making an unscrupulous move by stealing Harper’s ordered dinner for her boss. Because his boss is hungry.
The film immediately and hilariously establishes the master-slave relationship they have with their bosses. Charlie and Harper are treated like Siri (i.e., unfeeling robots on beck and call, with no personal lives). But while Siri has self-respect and is programmed to decline ridiculous tasks, Charlie and Harper are literally doormats who would kill to make the impossible possible.
Harper is the aspiring-writer slave to Kristen (Liu), a hotshot ESPN reporter that expects her alarm clock to go off in a way that doesn’t startle her; instead it should play a lullaby, with an increasing volume. Meanwhile, promotion-hungry Charlie works for Rick (Taye Diggs), a raging arse who frequently throws tantrums, especially at the mention of his ex-wife Kiki (who we never see in the movie).
Desperate to reclaim the slightest normalcy in their lives (like feel remotely human again), the two connive and play modern-day cupids to Kristen and Rick, or what Harper relentlessly says, to “Cyrano,” their bosses. The word “Cyrano” is bombarded to us, like a desperate need to make it as the new millennial word trend.
So the idea is, if they can get their psychopath masters to hook up and get romantically distracted, they will leave them slaves alone. Charlie will finally have time for his model-slash-social-climber girlfriend, Suze (real-life supermodel Joan Smalls), while Harper, who has never had a boyfriend, will finally get a chance to swipe left and right on Tinder.
So the two set up their bosses à la Parent Trap, with Charlie calling it “parent-trapping.” Armed with intimate knowledge of what turns on or turns off their bosses, they quickly swap calendars and intel and get Rick and Kristen to meet-cute and fall in love. Of course, we know these kids will eventually fall in love with each other, too, but we forget about it because we’re having fun with the process of matchmaking two evil masters.
What makes Set It Up chiefly work is the chemistry between Charlie and Harper, and Rick and Kristen, with Silberman’s script providing these characters enough personality and distinct quirkiness that make them irresistible to watch- evoking both exaggerated wackiness and true-to-life idiosyncrasies.
While the movie does not exactly trigger a string of gut-wrenching laughter, with Silberman oftentimes falling into self-conscious traps, there’s enough humor in it to label Set It Up as overall funny. But the comedy takes centerstage whenever Liu and Diggs appear onscreen.
Charlie and Harper are not exactly funny on their own, but their lively boisterous presence, and the fact that they look cute together, ferries the romantic element of the film.
Contrary to love-deprived netizens falling head-over-heels in love with Set It Up, the movie still does not earn the right to be compared to iconic rom-com classics. But it’s almost there, for its refreshingly not too-raunchy take and its many universal truths on the life of corporate drudgery. It may not be a romantic-comedy masterpiece, but considering the slew of bad Netflix original movies coming our way, it’s already considered a small-screen revelation.
3 out of 5 stars
Now streaming on Netflix
This review also appears in today’s issue of The Daily Tribune, in the author’s column “Film Check.”