Netflix’s latest original feature isn’t going to blow the doors off your house, but that’s not what it’s geared for. Instead, Set It Up is a silly, light-hearted, rom-com that’ll take you on an amusing ride all the way to the end. Lead by Zoey Deutch (The Year of Spectacular Men) and Glen Powell (Hidden Figures), Set It Up isn’t the tale of young love taking hold; rather, it’s the story of two individuals desperately trying not to lose their minds as their domineering bosses, played by Lucy Liu (Lucky Number Slevin) and Taye Diggs (Fox’s Empire), disrespect and demean them at all hours of the day. The story may play fast and loose with ethics, but that’s not why we watch. We watch to see if they can get away with it and maybe find a little peace of mind for themselves along the way. Thankfully, the script by first-time feature writer Kate Silberman combined with hilariously engaging performances from the cast – main and supporting – make Set It Up a fun little flick that twists expectations enough here and there to make it memorable.
Harper (Deutch) and Charlie (Powell) spend every moment of their waking lives focused on ensuring the lives of their respective bosses, sports reporter Kirsten and venture capitalist Rick, are running smoothly at all times. This might mean going to extraordinary lengths to return clothes only to purchase them again, aiding in the digestion of a juice cleanse by reciting visualization distractions, and ensuring that they have fresh food to eat at any time of day. It’s while trying to satiate their bosses’ latest requests that these two meet and Harper develops a plan to save their sanity: get the two single, aggravatingly driven individuals to fall in love with each other. What first seems like harmless fun to give them a reprieve from their constant, unreasonable needs, slowly becomes something unexpected for all involved. How it ends up, only time will tell.
The success of any rom-com is formed from the direction, the script, and the cast. Director Claire Scanlon has spent years working in ensemble television and her experience is put to great use here. Everyone from the central cast to smaller supporting roles work together in creating a natural flow to the world. Scanlon clearly understands how a story involves multiple pieces to tell properly resulting in a film where not a single character feels underutilized or out of place. This is particularly important when Silberman’s script calls for comedy, because, under Scanlon’s direction, the cast delivers the lines straight, making the humor feel far more natural and inspired. And Silberman’s script is a hoot. Sure, it plays in the murkier areas of right-and-wrong at times but it makes the attempts by Harper and Charlie to get their bosses to hook up so entertaining. Whereas most stories would keep the boss love story as comedic fodder, this script makes sure to show us the vulnerable sides of each of our main players. So whether you’re rooting for either of the potential couples to succeed or fail at the start, your feelings may change multiple times until the story’s done. Frankly, Silberman’s script is not a wholly unique take on the “meet cute” rom-com but it tweaks enough things to create some real surprises with how it handles the parallel love stories being one of the bigger ones.
Since the love stories are the key ingredients to Set It Up, the chemistry between the characters needs to fire on all cylinders and the cast pulls it off. Deutch brings her usual plucky charm but blends sardonic witt with romantic ideals to create Harper’s highly intelligent and incredibly motivated persona. Coupling this with an idealistic view of her boss, Kirsten, whom she views as a hero in the field she herself wants to work in, Harper is trapped between her dreams of sports writing and the agony of a virulent boss. Powell’s not a name most will know, but they should given notable performances in films Hidden Figures and Everybody Wants Some!! where his charisma created greater impact on smaller roles. Here, however, he’s able to go toe-to-toe with Deutch, making his stiff, pretentious Charlie seem like a near-direct opposite of Harper. Again, kudos to Silberman because neither Harper nor Charlie fall into stereotypical gender-based tropes where one loves love and the other loves money, blah blah, trope, etc. Rather, each have their own dreams and motivations and neither are defined by their relationship status, even if that self-same status does offer some narrative fodder. In supporting roles as bosses Kirsten and Rick, Liu and Diggs are fantastic. Liu’s always had great range in her work – whether drama, action, or comedy – and she makes every glance, every gesture impactful while appearing minimal. She’s an incredible talent put to great use as antagonist/mentor to Deutch’s Harper. In contrast, Diggs plays Charlie’s boss Rick as the least subtle individual you’ll meet. It’s not so much that he’ll say what’s on his mind, but how he doesn’t care who’s in ear-shot to hear it. He’s bold and brash and, if it were anyone less magnetic than Diggs, audiences would likely root against Rick far more than they already do. There’re smaller supporting turns by Tituss Burgess as building maintenance man Tim, Pete Davidson as Charlie’s roommate Duncan, and Meredith Hagner as Harper’s roommate Becca, but none – however briefly involved in the story – feel wasted. Even better, they don’t feel forcibly inserted, which goes, again, to the performances of the cast and the construction of the script.
As a whole, the look and sound design of Set It Up funnels back onto the narrative the light-hearted vibe it needs to endure where the story takes its darker turn to create conflict between the characters. Graciously, it’s neither earth-shattering nor outside the realm of reason with what we know about the characters. It’s clever on the part of Silberman, well-portrayed by the cast, and executed with ease by Scanlon. However, like most romantic comedies, Set It Up is likely to be a home run with some audiences and get shut out by others. It doesn’t paint-by-the-numbers with its story, but it’s fairly easy to tell where it’s going. That’s more an issue with the genre than with the film itself, and that’s ok. What Set It Up does have, it uses well and creates a film that’s bound to find a solid fan base. It’s cute, clever, and a little crass, which is all anyone really needs to fall in love.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.