We’re living on a deadline, and that doesn’t exactly make things easy.
Everybody my age has got a deadline. By my age, I mean twentysomething, working a job they may or may not like, struggling to save, dying to travel, setting carpal tunnel from swiping left way too often. A lot of us are beginning to realize that the greatest fantasy isn’t meeting the Right One, but being able to afford an entire house before they’re 30. How did our parents do it?
This is the kind of growing up we’ve had to do the last few years: realizing that generations before us can’t quite understand. (“Why do you kids always spend hours at Starbucks? You think Starbucks is cool?” No, because y’all didn’t build nice public libraries for us to study in.) And where the greatest ambition of the average 23-year-old in 1954 was to have a nice house and a family, the average, middle class 23-year-old is most likely thinking of quitting their two-year job in favor of better career options. Kids are a far, far, faraway future for them. Love is optional, but secretly required.
It’s important to understand all that to know why the Netflix Original Set it Up is such a strong romantic comedy. It tells the story that young people can relate to: Charlie (Glen Powell) and Harper (Zoey Deutch) are two overworked assistants for tough bosses (played by Taye Diggs and Lucy Liu). After a chance encounter, Charlie and Harper decide to act as matchmakers for their respective bosses — as a bid to give themselves more freedom outside the office — but soon realize that messing with love has its own repercussions.
The film’s premise is a story we’re all familiar with. Literature and film will tell you that anyone who acts as a conduit for people to fall in love will only get burned, one way or another. (Emma by Jane Austen and its contemporary version Clueless starring Alicia Silverstone are solid proof.) But the magic to Set It Up lies in many things, chief of which is the stellar chemistry between Deutch and Powell, who are both believably hungry, ambitious and anxious about the future. Deutch’s Harper is an aspiring sportswriter who has a ton of great ideas, but is haunted by the sight of a blank Word document. So she channels all her energy into working for her boss instead, a woman she looks up to and would like to learn from. Powell’s Charlie has a master’s degree and a supermodel girlfriend — he’s gunning for a promotion and sees his own boss as a peg for the future. Never mind that said boss is, in fact, a douchebag.
It’s rare for a romantic comedy to get these real, fleshed-out characters. Katie Silberman’s writing is reminiscent of the great rom-coms of cinema history. Think of the playful banter between Debbie Reynolds and Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain, or the tough love between Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in You’ve Got Mail. (Did I just compare Glen Powell to HANKS? Yes, I did.) In rom-coms, it’s the moments that really matter — simple things that one character says that the other will realize later on in some great, romantic epiphany. In Set it Up, it comes in the form of something called “over-dicking”; it’s a totally cute moment that has nothing to do with nether regions.
Everything else works in prefect harmony with Harper and Charlie — Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs play superbly horrible bosses; they manage to be over-the-top without being caricatures. Liu, in particular, shines in her brief moments onscreen. You really get why someone like Harper would put up with her crazy antics. Harper and Charlie’s roommates Becca and Duncan are perhaps among the best parts of the film. They kind of act like realized versions of their roommates, proving that being upfront with yourself is really what it takes to be happy.
Set it Up is indeed proof that twentysomethings live on a deadline. We want to achieve things now, tomorrow, next week. We know what we want. But how do we do it? How far are we willing to go? It doesn’t matter how many hours we clock in at work, or all the impossible tasks we manage to do. According to Harper and Charlie’s story, it’s in the moments where our characters are tested that we become who we really are. And this is how we become, well, adults.
Set it Up is now available on Netflix.