The romcom genre has pretty much died off in the past decade or so. There are occasional moments where it rears its head, but for the most part, too many stale entries rendered it into self-parody, and because (gasp) it wasn’t directed primarily at young men, the only demographic, worth serving for Hollywood, there wasn’t much of an impetus to make more. Thankfully, Netflix doesn’t have to worry about those trends so much and can appeal to “niche” (if you can call one of the most popular genres for decades a niche) audiences, which they’ve done so perfectly with Claire Scanlon’s Set It Up. Although it plays by the standard beats of the romcom, it still stretches with witty jokes and outstanding performances from its lead actors. Set It Up doesn’t reinvent the genre as much as it reminds us why we missed it so much.
Set in a world where every executive treats their assistant like garbage, we follow two such beleaguered assistants. Harper (Zoey Deutch) is an aspiring journalist who has become stuck working for the brilliant but vicious Kirsten (Lucy Liu), a celebrated sports journalist who runs her own media empire. Charlie (Glen Powell) works in the same building and for the callous, petty venture capitalist Rick (Taye Diggs). After a meet-cute of their own, Harper and Charlie conspire to set their bosses up together. If their bosses are off having sex, that gives Harper and Charlie the free time they so desperately crave. However, as they spend more time conspiring, Harper and Charlie start to fall for each other.
If you’ve seen a romcom before, you can pretty much set your watch by how Set It Up will play out. But playing by familiar beats isn’t a dealbreaker when you play them well. Katie Silberman’s script knows how romcoms go, but it’s filled with so many clever jokes and witty repartee that you won’t mind that you can see the twists and turns coming from a mile away. We watch thrillers to be surprised; we watch romcoms to be comforted, and you could wrap Set It Up around you like a warm blanket. The movie doesn’t want to surprise you, but instead remind you why you dug romcoms in the first place without being painfully self-aware or constantly winking at the audience. It’s not trying to deconstruct the genre, but rather remind us why we fell in love with it in the first place.
It doesn’t hurt that the film has two heavy hitters with Deutch and Powell. I’ve been a big fan of their work in previous films (Deutch for the underrated Vampire Academy, Powell for his small supporting turn in Hidden Figures, and both in Everybody Wants Some!!), and they both get a chance to shine here. It’s not that they’re channeling other romcom stars as much as they find their own chemistry and approach to the characters. If you told me tomorrow that Deutch and Powell were signed up for a series of Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan-esque romcoms, I’d watch every single one of them. Deutch always bring a bit of an edge to her characters that stops them from being too bubbly, and and Powell is debonair and comes right to the edge of being too cocky. They’re both stars waiting to happen, and hopefully Set It Up is a boon to their careers.
The film doesn’t hold together perfectly (as it nears the second act turn and the conclusion, it starts to falter a bit with choices that don’t really support the characters’ personalities), but it’s strong enough to remind us that the romcom genre is far from dead as long as talented people continue to invest in it. Hollywood may have decided that there’s no room for romcoms, but Set It Up shows there’s plenty of life left in the genre when you’ve got strong writing, sharp direction, and killer leads. If you’re looking for a date night at home, you need to add Set It Up to your Netflix list right now.