Having worked in the theatre industry for nearly 12 years, it’s no surprise to say that I get to work with a lot of celebrities. From Hollywood, Broadway and the music industry; it feels like I’ve seen hundreds of them. And every so often you might get into a conversation with their personal assistants. While the large majority of discussion ends up being positive, they do also reveal some incredible stories!
I remember listening to one male assistant who, over the course of his job, once revealed to the actor that employed him that he could do an incredibly good imitation of said actor. From then on, and almost every night, the assistant would be the one to call the actor’s kids (who lived in America) and do things like wish them goodnight, have conversations with them and generally pretend to be their father. Now the actor’s kids were only 5 and 7 years old, which is why it was so easy to fool them. But when I met him this assistant had been doing this for TWO YEARS. And that story was one of the tamer ones!
So regardless of the fact that I have no personal experience with such a job, it was easy to empathise with the long-suffering assistants at the centre of this movie. And with two amazing actors in those roles, Set It Up turns out to be one of the most fun romantic-comedies I’ve seen in years.
Desiring to have a career in journalism, Harper (Zoey Deutch) is a dedicated personal assistant to the demanding Kirsten (Lucy Liu), the editor of an online sports magazine. But it’s an insanely tough job, and one that takes up almost all her time.
However, she soon comes across a kindred spirit in the guise of Charlie (Glen Powell), a personal assistant to the equally challenging financial manager, Rick (Taye Diggs). Realising that both of them have stressed out lives, Harper comes up with the “perfect” idea.
Step 1: Get their bosses to date each other.
Step 2: Enjoy all that new free time now their employers are occupied!
But considering their bosses are steadfast in their workaholic ways; can this actually work?
A romantic-comedy lives and dies on the chemistry between its leads. It doesn’t matter how stupid the idea is (like The Invention of Lying), or how unoriginal the idea is (like The Invention of Lying), or how terrible the dialogue is (like… you get the idea). As long as the principal couple can trade friendly barbs while pretending they don’t want to rip each other’s clothes off for 89 minutes, then congrats! You have a romantic comedy!
And in Deutch and Powell you have a duo that is on fire! Every scene they have together, from beginning to end, sizzles with electricity. Deutch in particular shines like no other. It’s almost as if the role was tailor-written as her bubbly spirit bounces from scene to scene. Powell, while a little more subdued, is no less captivating as his enthusiasm for his future job prospects leads to many entertaining scenes.
Interestingly though, Set It Up has the added challenge of having to cast a second equally important couple. Though accorded a lot less screentime, it’s nonetheless impressive how well Liu and Diggs acquit themselves in their few scenes together. Considering they’re the closest the movie gets to an antagonist, it would have been easy for Katie Silberman’s script to simply portray them as horrible bosses. But there’s a heart to their relationship that helps infuse a sense of sympathy into two people who can’t quite find love on their own. As a result the characters feel bossy enough to be a challenge, and yet not so bullish that you hate them.
Despite the dismissive attitude in the first paragraph to anything but the chemistry between the two leads, there are of course several additional aspects that elevate this film, including an astounding script by the aforementioned Silberman, and a keen directorial eye from Claire Scanlon. While there are a few moments where the script swerves into more formulaic territory, the ship is usually righted by the end of the scene. And Scanlon’s direction, having already been honed through 50 episodes of American sitcoms, helps boost the comedic value, as well as giving prominence to several heart-warming moments.
In addition, and in spite of my eloquence and love for the two main couples, a special mention must be made for Tituss Burgess as the basement-dwelling “Creepy Tim.” Worlds away from his performance in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, what Burgess (purposely) lacks in energy here, he more than makes up for through his weirdly funny role as a plant loving elevator technician.
While it doesn’t reach the trope-subverting heights of 500 Days of Summer, Set It Up still takes a well-trodden genre and slaps it back to life. Add in the charming and playful cast, a snappy script and some memorable one-liners, and this ends up being not only one of the better Netflix Original films, but also one of the best rom-com’s released in the past few years.