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Wayback Wednesday: Set It Up (2018)

Wait…is this kind of a real movie?

2018 really was the year the romantic-comedy made a well-welcomed comeback. Not only were there many new entries to the genre released that year, but a large majority of them were incredibly well-received. Crazy Rich Asians (2018), Love, Simon (2018) and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018) were all huge critical successes that earned their own legions of fans. Set It Up (2018) was one of those rom-coms included in the great year of love and laughter, a surprising hit for Netflix. In the years since its release I’ve been tempted to watch it but something has always held me back. Honestly, it’s most likely because it’s a Netflix movie and we all know how I feel about those. But I finally decided to give Set It Up a chance and I’m thankful that I did! Look at Netflix still managing to throw me for a loop even after so many disappointments! 

Credit: imdb.com / Netflix

Set It Up follows Harper and Charlie, two executive assistants who are overworked and under appreciated by their demanding bosses. Desperate to get them off their backs, Harper and Charlie hatch a plan to set up their bosses, making them less available to dominate their free time. 

Sidenote, I fully believe that I have all the skills and qualities that would make me a fantastic assistant.  I’m organized, detail-oriented and resourceful. I’m great at sending a well-worded email! Now, I don’t know if I could put up with the overwhelming errands and borderline abuse that assistants in movies and TV put up with, but hey I’m up for a challenge. So if any high-powered executives are reading this review, please consider hiring me as your personal assistant. Another sidetone, if I were lucky enough to ever have an assistant of my own, it would not only change my life exponentially for the better but I would be so kind to them. 

Anyway, I was very excited to see that screenwriter Katie Silberman also wrote Booksmart (2019) – yay! – but was then apprehensive to discover that she also Don’t Worry Darling (2022) – yikes. By the way, check out my review for Booksmart, here. While there was definitely nothing glaringly wrong in the writing of Set It Up, it pales in comparison to Booksmart in the comedy department. I’m glad Silberman got this out of her system before penning that teen comedy. There are some funny moments in this movie but as a whole I found it to be a little lacklustre. I admired the original premise and the overall bubbly tone that reminded me of rom-coms from the early 2000s, but sadly I didn’t laugh as much during Set It Up as I had hoped. I chuckled more than a few times especially in the beginning, but after a while the movie fell flat for me comedy-wise. And romance-wise. As a rom-com I would say that Set It Up is overall successful if not a little disappointing.

Now that the biggest movie of the year, Top Gun: Maverick (2022) has catapulted him to international fame, I hope Glen Powell chooses more rom-com roles. Or even straight up comedy roles! Obviously he has the looks of an action star but he has such a great comedic timing and physicality when it comes to selling a bit that not a ton of young actors possess. Powell and Zoey Deutch are two charismatic, cute, talented actors who I get very excited about when I see their names in the credits. As Charlie and Harper respectively, they deliver strong performances that are endearing to watch. However, my biggest gripe about Set It Up is that while they have a fun chemistry, it reads much more as friendship than romance. 

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a movie end with a more unearned romance. Harper and Charlie never really connected in a way that made me root for their romance. It wasn’t until an hour and 10 minutes in before they even shared a slow dance and a pizza which apparently translated to them falling in love. Set It Up not only has a problem with defining relationships, but also with pacing. I think a small part of me would have much preferred a rom-com where Taye Diggs and Lucy Liu play these boss characters but they’re also the main characters with the central romance. They have a more romantic chemistry and I enjoyed the scenes of their relationship building more than I did Powell and Deutch’s. Oh, then you can still cast Powell and Deutch as their best friends which they’d be great at and as an added bonus, we wouldn’t need Pete Davidson as this shoehorned friend character! I’m not a Davidson hater by any means but wow, he is really unable of playing any character other than himself. 

Okay, so can we talk about Harper for a second? The characterization and the choices made were baffling. Why is her defining trait, “always needs to be snacking?” ALMOST EVERY time they cut to her for a new scene she’s snacking on something. I’m not mad but why? What is this supposed to tell us about her character? She even goes as far as to stop a romantic dance with Charlie and declares “I need pizza!” Then she leaves her best friend’s engagement party to get pizza! I love pizza more than anybody but like…what? What was the point of this? This movie made me hungry more than anything. Harper was often giving me just a touch too much of “I’m quirky and different!” a fact that the hair and wardrobe departments seemed to double down on. I know she works for a website but like…how about some less disheveled sweaters and messy hair and maybe a blazer and a brush? It makes her look more like a cartoon caricature rather than a three-dimensional character. The lack of styling makes her look like a teenager next to Powell which waters down the romantic chemistry even more. 

Next to the lack of romantic chemistry between the leads, the second biggest problem with Set It Up is the pacing. Harper and Charlie get their bosses together after the second attempt and seemingly all of their problems are solved within the first 40 minutes. The movie finds ways to fill the next hour of runtime but it feels inauthentic. Why not stretch the “setting up the bosses” shenanigans interspersed with more of the demeaning yet hilarious errands the bosses task them with? By the way, there’s a part of this movie that clearly wants what The Devil Wears Prada (2006) has but they’re a little more cartoonish with how they portray their overworked assistants. The Devil Wears Prada was a lot more realistic and that’s what in a sense made it even funnier. 

This was an enjoyable first watch of Set It Up but unlike the best rom-coms, I don’t particularly feel like rewatching this one. I’m glad I checked it out but now that I have I’m cool to move on to other critically-acclaimed rom-coms that I’ve missed over the years. Do you know that I’ve never seen Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)? It’s true! Now that Halloween has sadly come to an end, my focus has shifted from horror to rom-com. Oh! Maybe I could get the best of both worlds and watch a movie like Haunted Honeymoon (1986)! 

Have you seen Set It Up?

Let me know in the comments or on social media! 

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