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Film Review: ‘Set It Up’

The sparky combined charm of Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell goes some way toward selling this agreeably formulaic Netflix romcom.

Director:
Claire Scanlon
With:
Zoey Deutch, Glen Powell, Lucy Liu, Taye Diggs, Pete Davidson, Meredith Hagner, Jon Rudnitsky, Tituss Burgess.
Release Date:
Jun 15, 2018

1 hour 45 minutes

Old-fashioned date movies don’t fill mall multiplexes the way they did a decade or two ago, before megabudget tentpoles subsumed the bulk of adult moviegoing, but they appear to have a future on Netflix — for couples, at least, who have already reached the staying-in point in their relationship. A sunny, innocuous romcom that matches millennial neuroses to age-old Cupid’s-arrow contrivance, “Set It Up” makes a case for the genre remaining big, à la Norma Desmond, even as the pictures get small. Director Claire Scanlon and writer Katie Silberman’s slight, cutely bow-tied tale of two overworked young PAs tactically engineering a romance between their demanding bosses — only to (surprise!) fall for each other in the process — may be more frothy than it is actually funny, but in adorable stars Glen Powell and Zoey Deutch, it happens upon a perky pairing that might, in another era, have become a fixture.

If Powell and Deutch have big-screen chemistry, however, “Set It Up” retains a bright, boxy televisual aura throughout. That’s not surprising, given Scanlon’s formidable record as a helmer for such rapid-fire series as “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “Fresh Off the Boat”: Her first feature film is built on quick, quippy sitcom beats, as is the glib patter of Silberman’s freshman script. Is that the wrong approach in a film made directly for the Netflix content mill? As the rise of VOD distribution forces an ongoing conversation about what constitutes cinema, Scanlon’s film feels cannily modern in its medium-straddling, even as its storytelling, patchworked from such influences as “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Cyrano de Bergerac” and “The Parent Trap,” breaks little new ground. (The last of those, incidentally, is directly namechecked as “the Lindsay Lohan classic,” lest you wonder which generation is in control here.)

Certainly, exhausted New York workhorses Harper (Deutch) and Charlie (Powell) share the kind of lifestyle where even falling asleep to a film on Netflix would qualify as a small miracle of time management. An introductory montage detailing the daily stresses endured by the city’s beleaguered assistants strikes a shrill comic note; the film settles more comfortably as it details the bustling daily routines of its two leads on different floors of the same sleek office block, though we’re in an implausibly heightened corporate universe throughout. Sweet-natured bachelorette Harper is a patient lackey to ferocious sports editor Kirsten (Lucy Liu), deferring her own journalistic dreams for full-time servitude. Preppy jock Charlie’s professional goals are less defined, not that his constant waiting on petulant, powerful businessman Rick (Taye Diggs) leaves him time to consider his career, or his rapidly cooling relationship with status-fixated model Suze (Joan Smalls).

When Harper and Charlie meet-cute over clashing dinner orders for their respective bosses, it doesn’t take them long to figure out that match-making the mutually single Kirsten and Rick could make for a calmer work environment all round. A haphazardly manipulated elevator encounter — with all-too-brief assistance from “Kimmy Schmidt’s” wonderful Tituss Burgess as a loopy custodian — sets the trap; soon enough, the Type A tyrants are dating, taking afternoons and weekends off, and permitting their assistants a bit more free time to get to know each other.

Matters proceed largely as you’d expect from there, though what initially seems a noxiously conservative “career woman needs a man” arc gets a healthy tweak along the way. Scanlon, aided by veteran comedy editor Wendy Greene Bricmont (“Annie Hall,” “Mean Girls”), keeps business bubbling at a pleasantly predictable pace, even as Silberman’s comic tone occasionally slips out of joint: In particular, a protracted gross-out gag involving public urination seems grafted on from another movie altogether, while a smattering of Netflix-permitted, c-word-level profanity breaks a bit effortfully from an otherwise peppy PG-13 register.

It’s the stars who have to work hardest to sell this kind of egg-white confection, and so they do. Having both charmed individually in previous vehicles, Deutch and Powell combine to winkingly wholesome effect, bringing just enough human self-awareness to their tidy back-and-forth banter to make it palatable. Powell, most recently the bright spot of “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,” continues to subvert his square-cut fratboy handsomeness with a plaintive streak of boyish insecurity. That’s held in balance, meanwhile, by Deutch’s winsome seriousness; she could be Anna Kendrick’s more earnest kid sister. Together, they’re a couple to root for, even as the amiable flimsy film around them is harder to believe in: The Netflix-era romantic comedy hasn’t found its Nora Ephron yet, but its Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan vacancies have possibilities.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Set It Up'

Reviewed online, London, June 14, 2018. Running time: 105 MIN.

Production: A Netflix presentation of a Treehouse Pictures production. Producers: Justin Nappi, Juliet Berman. Co-producers: Carrie Fix, Katie Silberman.

Crew: Director: Claire Scanlon. Screenplay: Katie Silberman. Camera: Matthew Clark. Editor: Wendy Greene Bricmont. Music: Laura Karpman.

With: Zoey Deutch, Glen Powell, Lucy Liu, Taye Diggs, Pete Davidson, Meredith Hagner, Jon Rudnitsky, Tituss Burgess.

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