Latest posts by Oliver Ledingham-Smith (see all)
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The Netflix Original, Set It Up, is indubitably a romance film, but perhaps not the sort of initial romance film that you would imagine it being. In this take on people falling in love, it is Harper (Zoey Deutch) and Charlie (Glen Powell), two beleaguered assistants who are chained to their jobs due to their respective workaholic bosses, who team up to make their bosses – Kirsten (Lucy Liu) and Rick (Taye Diggs), respectively – fall in love so that they can be free from the long hours that prevent them from having social lives of their own. Harper is a woman who wishes to write her own articles – to be a writer in her own merit – and yet doesn’t have any time to write at all, because she is so busy. In fact, her work schedule means that she is stuck in a rut; something that is summed up when her best friend’s boyfriend proposes to her best friend, and she is still single. Meanwhile, Charlie has a girlfriend, yet is so terrified of his boss that he will literally throw his phone in the bushes when he sees his boss coming so as not to be reprimanded – even if he is midway through a conversation with his girlfriend.
This kind of toxic lifestyle is made painstakingly transparent right from the off, so viewers will immediately know and understand and – to some kind of extent – appreciate the plight of both Harper and Charlie. Both assistants started their jobs/careers, endeavouring to be like their bosses, but they have since learnt that being like their bosses is soul destroying, time consuming, and ultimately makes them into not very nice people – Charlie perhaps more so than Harper, if only because Charlie still has the drive to want to be promoted and to make something of his life. After all, he is twenty-eight, which, while not necessarily old per se, in the business world, being twenty-eight and still being an assistant is frowned upon. Therefore, it doesn’t take much persuasion from Harper to get Charlie on board with the idea of hooking up their bosses, and when their plans begin to work out, it in turn works out for them, and they get free time to do whatever they want: Harper can write; Charlie can spend time with his girlfriend. Only, neither of those things really happen, and both assistants instead collaborate together, growing closer to one another, much like their bosses do. They hang out, they laugh, they make jokes, and they plan whatever date their bosses are going to go on next.
In the end, Set It Up does kind of turn into your conventional love story, with Harper and Charlie falling for one another, yet it is done in such a way that you almost don’t see it coming until one particular scene. It is a quiet scene in question, no bombastic fireworks, no extreme emotions, no shouting matches about why so-and-so is wrong that then ends in them kissing one another in a moment of heated passion. Instead, it is shared over a pizza, and it is in that moment that you realise ‘okay, this is it’. But it also would have been okay if it hadn’t been it, if Set It Up had kept them friends, as a team, who worked together to keep on making sure that their bosses stayed as a couple. Unfortunately, their bosses are fiery, headstrong, stubborn people in their own right, and so it is less than a smooth ride for our protagonists (if they can be called as such). Naturally, this is something you would expect, especially from a movie that has such a conventional storyline (most if not all romance stories have them, so this is an observation, not a complaint, for a change), but that’s fine, because otherwise it would just be a succession of successful dates.
I’ve bemoaned depictions of ‘slice of life’ movies before, most notably Netflix’s Dude, but I feel that they hit the mark with this one. Anyone who is an assistant, has been an assistant, or has even just heard stories of someone who’s an assistant, will know what it’s like to work for someone who is a workaholic. Hell, anyone who has a job that means you’ve got to work upwards of fifty plus hours a week will know what it feels like to have the life and joy and energy sucked out of you, until you’re nothing but a meat sack shuffling from one point to another, day after day, in a mindless stupor, waiting for something meaningful to come along and save you from the abyss. Set It Up does just that, and coupled with Harper’s enthusiasm and Charlie’s desire to actually make something with his life, you’re given a more hopeful look at the whole ‘slice of life’ thing. Sure, it may tread familiar story beats, and you just know everything’s going to come back to bite them in the ass at some point, but it is no less enjoyable, and by that time, you’re subconsciously rooting for the characters anyway. Set It Up is a fun romance film that delivers on the laughs, the dates, the awkwardness, and the comedy; it’s one that is actually good, so well done Netflix.
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