The rom–com may be making its comeback. On June 15th, everyone’s favorite streaming giant released the Netflix Original a movie about twenty–somethings Harper (Zoey Deutch) and Charlie (Glen Powell), two overworked personal assistants who, in a desire to get more free time for themselves, scheme to matchmake their demanding, workaholic bosses (played with obvious enjoyment by Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs).
Harper and Charlie, of course, fall in love with each other in the process. Set It Up marks, in many ways, a return to form for the romantic comedy, a genre recently believed Set It Up pays homage to the whole canon of the rom–com, from the screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s to the golden ages of the Meg Ryan's 90s and Sandra Bullock's 00s.
It contains meta references both emotionally sincere and tongue–in–cheek: true to the genre, Harper and Charlie—supposedly on assistants’ salaries—both live in New York City apartments way too nice and with way too few roommates. Also true to the genre, Charlie’s pre–Harper girlfriend is way too hot to be dating him—she's played by the supermodel Joan Smalls—and Harper’s pre–Charlie dalliance is bland and forgettable (aptly referred to only as “Golf Guy”, perhaps a wink of self–awareness on the part of the screenwriter).
Rarely can a rom–com exist without a dramatic race–to–the–airport scene, and Set It Up squeezes in the trope with a funny and subversive twist (no spoilers!). But the film is more than just a callback to the genre’s golden days. Set It Up also gives much–needed updates, eschewing sexist stereotypes and tired gender roles to make way for funnier jokes and more meaningful character development.
Harper, for example, wants to be a journalist, which is more or less the quintessential profession for female rom–com leads. But in contrast (thank God) to her predecessors (from Drew Barrymore in 1999’s Never Been Kissed to Amy Schumer in 2015’s Trainwreck), , and she doesn’t let her love interests distract her or destroy her career. Plus, her professional idol and mentor is Lucy Liu’s character, Harper’s boss and successful and enterprising female sports reporter Kirsten Stevens.
Set It Up is not a perfect movie. Some jokes fall flat, as jokes are wont to do, and Joan Smalls as the dumpee and not the dumper genuinely tested my suspension of disbelief. Nevertheless, Set It Up is certainly the most satisfying romantic comedy I've seen over the past few years. It reminds us what’s great and addictive about rom–coms, that even at their most formulaic, if the leads have chemistry and the one–liners are aplenty, it will be enough for us. Best of all, Set It Up assures us that the —it’s just evolving.