Review: Set It Up
If you feel like you’ve been hearing the name Zoey Deutch more than usual lately, or maybe for the first time, it’s because you probably have. The actress who lit up Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some and made a name for herself last year in the harrowing young-adult drama Before I Fall has already released three movies in 2018 with at least one more on the way. When watching any of her movies, though, it’s evident that Deutch’s success is no fluke. Giving equal weight to the comic and the dramatic, while never letting any line be a throw-away line, she shines more than ever as Harper in Claire Scanlon’s deceivingly clever new romantic comedy Set It Up.
Set It Up follows the story of Harper, the assistant to the vicious, Miranda Priestly-esque sports reporter Kirsten Stevens (Lucy Liu). Harper, in love with sports and journalism but brutally overworked, runs into Charlie Young (Glen Powell), yet another assistant of a workaholic, Rick Otis (Taye Diggs). The two assistants plot to revive their personal lives by coercing their bosses to fall in love with one another.
Instead of getting lost in the typical beats of a romantic comedy, the smart story written by Katie Silberman focuses on the abnormal in the story. It’s a movie more about romantic comedies than being one itself. The characters, with a rich film knowledge, follow the examples set by their favorite romances to set up their bosses. The most rewarding magic trick of Set It Up is the realization that at least two-thirds of the way through the movie, the two lead characters have barely any obvious romantic time together. They spend the majority of their time plotting and voyeuristically watching their bosses fall in love. This falling-in-love by watching others is what makes Set It Up so brilliant in its execution. It’s as if you’re watching two people fall in love by watching rom-coms.
While there’s a lot to be said, both good and bad, for attempting to remake decades-old movie magic with new characters, recreating the chemistry of classic rom-coms is not only a valiant pursuit, but is also one that is desperately lacking in recent romances. Even the best of our modern romances take advantage of leads well-known enough to spark a little imaginary chemistry in the minds of the audience. When Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel look at each other in 500 Days of Summer, their chemistry doesn’t come from the truest place, it stems from them being two beautiful people and our expectation that two beautiful people should fall in love with one another. This isn’t necessarily to the detriment of these films; these connections are just nearly impossible to make.
Because of this, so much magic comes from the miraculous connection that Deutch and Powell forge in Set It Up. When they look at each other, it’s reflecting the look of Lloyd Dobler(John Cusack) looking at Diane Court (Ione Skye) in Say Anything, or Annie Reed (Meg Ryan) meeting Sam Baldwin (Tom Hanks) for the first time in Sleepless In Seattle, or Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) saying goodbye to Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) at the beginning of Brief Encounter. Set It Up doesn’t mirror the greatness of these movies, but it reimagines the chemistry. When the leads see each other, they reflect each other in their eyes, they see each other, and they admire the person sitting across from each other. It’s the envious easy vulnerability that most people would desire in a relationship, but that only is readily available in romantic pairings of the highest precision.
Despite a few false notes, including sequences that are hilarious but feel more like Jared Hess than Nora Ephron, Set It Up manages to be a rom-com full of surprises, heart, and real romance whether Harper and Charlie know it’s coming or not. It never quite ascends the ranks of a great rom-com, but it has incredible chemistry and somehow feels extra special in an age of false pairings and forced chemistry.
Set It Up is now on Netflix.