' ' Cinema Romantico: Set It Up

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Set It Up

I confess, I was rooting for “Set It Up.” As Claire Scanlon’s Netflix distributed romantic comedy entered its second act downturn, where so many promising rom coms before it have crashed against the rocks and capsized, I was so taken with “Set It Up’s” sprightly telling and energetic performances that I was actively rooting for it not to spring a leak. And though a couple coincidences do emerge to help spur the narrative along to its conclusion, the film, refreshingly, never betrays the intelligence of its characters. That’s not to suggest “Set It Up” resists coloring within fairly rigid rom com lines. Nothing here is really new, a fact which the movie essentially acknowledges by way of various references to rom coms of yore. And if that might suggest what “Weird Al” Yankovich recently rightly criticized as unimaginative Reference Comedy, “Set It Up”, bless its heart, is never so shallow. It acknowledges its debts to its ancestors and then employs those familiar tropes to yield its own entertaining rewards.

“Set It Up” sort of blends the puppet-master romantic routine of “The Parent Trap”, which is cited, with the boss from hell comedy of “The Devil Wears Prada”, which is not cited. Harper (Zoey Deutch) and Charlie (Glen Powell) are overtaxed personal assistants to, respectively, a powerful sports reporter, Kirsten (Lucy Liu), and a venture capitalist, Rick (Taye Diggs). The assistants’ stress levels are effectively demonstrated, particularly in the early-going, by a camera refusing to stay still, rendering moments like Harper’s attempts to anticipate her boss’s needs by coming out from around her desk and into her boss’s office, and then making haste backwards as her boss angrily strides forward as something like a tango, where her boss leads by forcing her assistant to guess which way she is going to go.

After Harper and Charlie cross paths, they scheme to dial down their hectic lifestyles by manipulating their boss’s daily schedules in a wily effort to hook them up. If you suspect this will lead to Harper and Charlie falling in love instead, you would be right, though it is commendable just how un-obvious "Set It Up" is despite such a pre-ordained arc. If you might wish Harper and Charlie’s other love interests, whose names I forget because their characters are so uninspiring, were ditched altogether, it is nevertheless welcome that we spend so little time with these two nobodies anyway. And while moments like conspiring to get Kirsten and Rick on the Kiss Cam at Yankee Stadium seem readymade for Harper and Charlie to then be found by the camera too, it thankfully does not.

Charlie is written as something approaching a bro, but Powell’s natural twinkly demeanor, so ably displayed in both “Everybody Wants Some!!” and “Hidden Figures”, still emerges so that you can see precisely what it is that draws Harper to him in the first place. And together Detuch and Powell emit wattage in the convincing, flirtatious way they give each other shit, the cornerstone of any beginning relationship, before gradually allowing it to transform into something more. The latter is best seen in a late-night sequence that is an acute evocation, as any one who has ever been in their twenties can attest, to the majesty of drunk pizza. It, like so many others, is a scene that refuses to end the way you think it will.

The film’s flaw, as it were, lies in its attempts to intertwine career aspirations with the love story. Though Charlie's yearning to become sort of vaguely defined business analyst are insignificant, it is nevertheless at least tied back to his ultimate, if obvious, realization that he isn't even certainly what he actually wants to be or do. Harper, on the other hand, really does yearn to break into the sports journalism industry, an idea worthy of exploration that the screenplay reduces to nothing more than her repeatedly trying and failing to write a single story.....until she succeeds, and all is well, as frustrating a trope as the mildewy closing shot of the Central Park skyline. C’mon.

More incisiveness into the journalism world would have been beneficial, particularly because the screenplay does give the characters space to settle their professional and personal conundrums before officially bringing them together. Whatever its other deficiencies, that space is nothing less than a triumph, an acknowledgment that Love does not Cure All, but that Love goes hand in hand with Everything Else.

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