Romantic comedies are a hit and miss kind of genre, either they suffer from a multitude of cliches or they have such a unique voice that these films stand out with a fragrance of seamless rewatchability. Claire Scanlon’s “Set It Up” is a film that falls somewhere in the middle, but it definitely favors the latter. It’s a female written and directed film that seems to handle this genre with flair and charisma that seems to stray away from this genre.
Taking place in the upper echelon of New York city, “Set It Up,” written by Katie Silberman, introduces us to the crappy job of assisting someone who holds the keys to your future, specifically two assistants. Harper (Zoey Deutch) who assists to a big-time sports journalist, Kirsten (Lucy Lou), and she’s an aspiring writer who spends her hours supporting and slaving away for this boss woman, while simultaneously forgetting actually to write something.
Her co-star, Charlie (Glen Powell), is a helper for a big-time business mogul, Rick (Taye Diggs), and he wants to get that big promotion so he can afford those expensive seats that he usually saves for his boss. After a night in which these two aides struggle to agree on how to satisfy their bosses appetites, they come together and begin to share each other's struggles. Participating in this therapeutic exchange of the frustrations they feel for slaving away for two people who seem to care less whether they are happy or sad or anything other than on-time and quiet.
They soon hatch up this plan to force these two to begin dating and getting it on, so that they can start to get a little time to themselves. Harper (Zoey Deutch) takes this time to try and kindle and mingle with other singles, and Charle (Glen Powell) decides to begin hanging out more with his model girlfriend, Suze (Joan Smalls). His gay roommate, depicted by SNL’s Pete Davidson, clearly sees this lack of self-confidence and identity that Charlie (Glen Powell) has, and it becomes a pivotal character arc for this man.
Harper (Zoey Deutch) is in the same pickle of having that same lack of belief to become a writer, which as someone who shares that struggle of writer’s block, I get that anxiety of not feeling good enough. Continually stressing about re-writes and trying new writing styles so if someone looking to hire writers reads my work, they might decide to give me some money for it.
These two people begin to discover the relationship their constructing is not as palpable as the one manifesting before them, and then the film provides those cliche lines for love and yadda yadda yadda. We’ve seen these tropes and plot structures before, and Katie Silberman seems to have forgotten this. She has provided a relative amount of nuance and unique voice to a film that soon turns into the stereotypical romantic comedy that we’ve seen more than a thousand times. I guess these things still have to be here so that we know that we’re watching a romantic comedy, but it also feels as if she’s sacrificing footing for a killing stroke in a way.
Delivering a screenplay that still fits in the tight little check boxes of the genre, but also shares her voice. You can hear that tone of someone writing what they mean, from the standpoint of sharing what they believe. Painting a diverse cast that is usually predominantly white and straight like that of “The Proposal,” “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “Love Actually,” and I could go on.
“Set It Up” is not one of those films, introducing a proud gay character that provides the movies best jokes, and two bosses that are diverse as well. One of whom is an independent, strong, and confident woman and the other is a successful black man that stands in a position of power. It’s subliminally executed though, never noticing it until someone else points it out or until you begin to read someone else's review, like I did, before writing this one. Visually, Claire Scanlon’s direction doesn’t stand out in that area, rarely being more than a carry and film kind of situation. She does provide that upbeat, hipsterish, New York city style that delivers that authenticity that blends in with the realistically diverse depiction of a metropolitan area.
The film doesn’t deliver much more than that though, a film that has a lot of surprising uses of foul language, gender influenced debates and a considerable amount of witty dialogue. The two stars share remarkable chemistry and provide some great banter between each other that feels palpable and believable. Seeing them interact with two diverse higher-ups such as a Chinese-American woman and an African American male, knowing they struggled for their earnings and opportunity, just as much as these two white assistants.
It’s a film that paints a diverse picture, uses that picture to formulate a few subliminal socio-political comments, but never actually delivers anything worth mentioning. It’s a film that cuts off the crust of its bread, fearing to offend instead of standing their ground, Katie Silberman and Claire Scanlon provides a film that is surprisingly better than most but never takes that final step to make something worth taking notice. It’s like a teenager being afraid to speak up about something they know to be true; you just have to breathe and embrace the anxiety.
We watch Harper (Zoey Deutch) deal with a similar problem; she's advised to write something awful to correct and tinker over to make it great, the same logic could be applied to the screenplay from Katie Silberman. You have to write that script that takes off a bit more than it can chew so that you can learn how to deliver your message properly. Silberman is almost there, but she needs to embrace that rebellious side that she displays so passionately in this authentically colored romcom.