Prove your humanity

After weeks of new releases, in this instalment of the Weekly Watch, I’ll be talking about a film that has been a go-to of mine since its release in 2018. I don’t want to use the word ‘brave’, but I will be expressing my appreciation for a movie that falls securely within one of the most widely criticised categories of film there are: the Netflix original romcom.

Sure, the cutesy corner of Netflix has its flaws, but Set It Up is not one of them. I won’t pretend that it isn’t predictable, cheesy, or a little unrealistic, but it delivers on the promise of its genre. Set It Up leans into the tropes of the romantic comedy with thoughtfulness and sophistication. It is fun, comforting and effortless to watch—traits which are indicative of a carefully-crafted script. The characters are endearing, relatable and suitably flawed; the dialogue is witty and interesting; and the romance is believable.

Written by Katie Silberman (Booksmart, Isn’t It Romantic) and directed by Claire Scanlon (The Wrecking Crew), Set It Up follows two overworked assistants as they attempt to trick their difficult bosses into dating one another. The twenty-something protagonists Harper (Zoey Deutch) and Charlie (Glen Powell) experience character arcs over the course of the film that are worthy of audience investment. They each pursue a path to self-improvement that, while inspired by shared experiences, are ultimately their own. Their lives change for the better in ways that are irrelevant to their relationship; and this, I think, is a key part of what makes the film work.

Romantic comedies are often critically dismissed, but there is an art to fabricating affective moments of human connection. So many of the cinematic romances we idealise are grounded in pain, disfunction and devastating back stories, but romcoms rely upon more subtle methods of story-telling. These films have to convince their audience that a steadily-blooming romance could be life-long. They have to make us believe in the importance of small, reserved moments, and imagine the passion that underlies awkward interactions.

Set It Up achieves all of these things. Aided by great performances from leads and side-characters alike, it presents a plotline with sufficient stakes and complications. The romantic dynamic develops steadily over time, never becoming cheap or over-dramatic. It’s the kind of movie that gives me hope for the future of romcoms, and I look forward to seeing what Silberman does next.