“You’re not hard to get at all. You’re hard to earn. It’s so much better.”
Title: Set It Up
Directed by: Claire Scanlon
Screenplay by: Katie Silberman
A lot of us have been disillusioned by the rom-com genre, particularly the Filipino audience. We have been fed a steady diet of love-team films and we’ve accused producers of being formulaic, sticking to familiar tropes of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back.
Whenever time and money allow me I make it a point to watch films on their first day at the cinema, especially Filipino films. Plenty of times have I walked out and felt dismayed by the genre, too. I love romantic comedies. With the right storyteller, they can portray so much about the complexity of human relationships – while making us laugh. They are feel-good movies, often tapping into nostalgia that lives in all of us.
Fans of other genres hold a snobby air towards rom-com fans. Some of them have the reason to be, as with horror movie fans, because their genre is undergoing a renaissance and is reinventing itself (See films Get Out, A Quiet Place, Hereditary). Fans are no longer bragging that the movie didn’t scare them. They are now proud to walk out the cinema, breathless and freaked out.
Superhero film fans also take pride in the massive worlds (universes) their films are in, transcending the silver screen and now out to meme pages and dedicated fan twitter accounts. Rom-coms focus on two people. Not so massive.
I recently tried to give the rom-com genre another chance, through the latest Netflix Original releases. I first watched Irreplaceable You, which I already reviewed on this blog. Then I watched The Kissing Booth. I did not like it. It was all bodies but very little heart. I really did try to look on the film’s bright side, but it boils down to whether or not I enjoyed it. I didn’t. I also watched When We First Met, and was delighted by the story, although it is less of a love story and more of a journey to self-discovery.
And then, I watched Set It Up.
Set It Up (dir. Claire Scanlon) takes us to the corporate world – and the bogged down lives of two personal assistants; Harper (Zoey Dutch) a personal assistant to a famous ESPN Sports Reporter, and Charlie (Glen Powell), who works for a top businessman and is hoping to rise out of his slave-like rank and be promoted. Because their bosses have no lives, they don’t have lives too. They miss dates and important life events because their bosses like working late, sleeping in their offices, asking for unreasonable things.
Harper hopes to be a writer someday, but can not afford to live off of it yet, (sounds familiar! haha) so she hopes to learn from her boss. Charlie does not seem to have a specific goal yet, or a clear picture of what he wants to become, although he knows he wants to go up. His girlfriend is a model. He needs to be the type of guy his girl can show around.
Although they work at the same building, they only ever meet because their bosses wanted dinner, and they end up fighting over what the delivery man brought. You would expect the rest of the film to be about two bickering assistants who fall in love. I mean, it’s a popular rom-com formula (When Harry Met Sally), but no. They turn into a matchmaking duo, in the hopes that when their bosses date each other, they would finally have room to breathe.
To be blunt about it, Set It Up is a formulaic romantic comedy, but it’s refreshing still. A lot of romantic comedies try to expand the genre by being more raunchy and sometimes, vulgar, and many times this does not work (at least for me). I would go out on a limb and say the main purpose of a rom-com is to make us feel things when two people look at each other. A delicate feat, no less.
Since the film does not zero in on a Harper and Charlie romance, but on them trying to get their bosses together, we see a behind-the-scenes dynamic blossom into a friendship. This was refreshing to see. They became friends. Really good friends. Their chemistry spikes up because suddenly, you root for them, the same way they root for their bosses, the same way we hope our friends end up with our other good friends who they’re too blind to notice (haha).
During a friend’s engagement party, the bride makes a heartfelt speech about liking a person because, and loving a person despite. “You like someone because of their qualities, and you love someone despite their qualities.” It made me think about the maturity, and selflessness, that comes with loving another person. How, no matter how we package it, love really is a commitment to stay. It’s a no-matter-what agreement. It’s no longer about what how I feel about you. It’s This is how I choose to feel about you.
Rom-com films end in a big romantic gesture, like meeting at the Statue of Liberty, or holding a boombox over one’s shoulder, or orchestrating a flash mob in a crowded train station. This film has none of those. Instead, in the last scene we find them in their world, or where they used to be, surrounded by power walkers and men in blazers. You see it in their eyes that they want to try. They want to make this work. So they will.
I am endeared to the way the film told us the story of many millennials today, especially those working in huge industries. We want to be seen. We want to move up, whatever that means. In the process, we lose our lives, you know? The places we want to be in are oftentimes still occupied so we carve out spaces for us. It takes guts. Long nights. We don’t go out with friends because we need to make money that will allow us to afford hanging out with friends. We can endure crappy apartments because if I work hard enough, I can afford a better house. Maybe one day I can write films! But not today. Not yet.
Most of us answer to a boss. Bosses come in all cuts and colors, and some of them take a huge chunk of our lives. Even rest and respite is hard to earn, whether from them or from our self-imposed guilt. One of the characters in the film will lose his job and will work a much lower position in the next. All those hours he slaved away – gone. “Starting over at 28”, he said with a sigh. Capitalism is a cruel world. Especially for dreamers. But we’ll wade through it anyway. We’ll continue finding another mountain to climb and this time we’ll find better gear.
One film review called Set It Up a proper 21st Century rom-com. That it is. It’s refreshing, it’s light, it takes you into the world of two people trying to live the way the know best. It’s also real. They walk in familiar shoes.
If you’re looking to explore, or rediscover, the rom-com genre, you can start here. It’s safe, it’s familiar, it’s nostalgic – all in excellent ways.
My rating: 🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕 (1 whole pizza! Haha)
Set It Up is available for streaming on Netflix.
Are there films you want me to review? Let me know!