What’s so special about Netflix’s Set It Up?

Three Journal staff dissect the breakout rom-com’s appeal

Three girls watching Set It Up on a laptop.
Photo: 

Within the past decade, it seemed audiences and moviemakers alike had agreed on a simple fact: the romantic-comedy genre is dead. According to Business Insider, major studio releases of romantic comedy films have dropped nearly 100 per cent in the last eight years. Yet Netflix has still found a hit in its summer breakout rom-com, Set It Up.

But for non-romantics or those of us who dislike predictable movies, the appeal of Set It Up is a little harder to gauge.

Three passionate Set It Up fans are here to make their case for why Netflix’s most formulaic release yet matters.

Eva: There seems to be one prevailing plotline that plagues most romantic comedies. Two strangers meet in an odd way with anything but dating each other on their minds. They end up working together, ruffling each other’s feathers, and, of course, falling in love.

Netflix’s latest smash hit, Set It Up, follows this overused plot line—consider it the rom-com formula—in almost every way. But there are some key differences that make it special.

Ally: Set It Up is about two worn out assistants who—in an effort to work less—use their assistant intel to set up their comically horrible bosses.

Somewhere between rigging a stadium’s kiss cam and arranging a weekend getaway, the two begin to develop feelings for one another. I think you see where this is headed.

Years ago, a movie with such a standard plot would’ve sat collecting dust on a shelf in Blockbuster. Today, since it appears on one of the world’s top streaming services during a rom-com drought, Set It Up’s modernized talemanages to stand out.

Alexandra P.: Eva and Ally are right: Set It Up tackles the rom-com formula to a tee. But it also marks an important step in the genre because of the various societal issues the film acknowledges, like gender inequality and a lack of diversity.

When I saw the thumbnail for the film, I immediately noticed the diverse cast. With that one element alone, Netflix is breaking the overwhelmingly Caucasian casting mold and appealing to all audiences with their diverse casting choice.

Set It Up also depicts a female protagonist who takes charge of her life and relationships. The rom-coms I’ve seen in the past usually undermine the lead female character, but that wasn’t the case here.

E: Set It Up then takes their racially and sexually diverse cast and normalizes it.

For example, there’s no need for any weirdness between the principal love interest, Charlie, and his roommate Duncan, played by SNL’s Pete Davidson. Duncan happens to be gay. They are simply two buds sharing an apartment.

Duncan’s character is also far from your typical ‘gay best friend’. He is a tough and loyal friend. I mean, he throws a coffee on Rick, who has treated his employee Charlie like trash for ages. That’s one badass friend, in my opinion.

A: The movie not only gives us friends as loveable as the protagonists, but also depicts a clear-eyed portrayal of 21st-century dating.

Although she is well into her twenties, Harper has never had a boyfriend and swipes through Tinder for a quick solution. Charlie, on the other hand, is more infatuated with his girlfriend’s modelling career than he is with his girlfriend. Even Harper’s boss Kirsten is in the midst of a year-long dry spell when the story starts, too busy with work to date.  

Long gone are the ‘knight in shining armour’ and ‘manic pixie dream girl’ stereotypes. These characters navigate relationships and singledom almost as clumsily as we do.  

E: Kirsten’s reasoning for her lackluster love life—she’s a workaholic—is especially notable because it breaks a whole stereotype. While Kirsten—who we are introduced to as Harper’s nightmare of a boss—initially comes off as plainly rude, she is actually just super honest and good at her job.

These traits break the stereotypes of the woman who has to be mean to be successful and the authoritative but still loveable man. Later in the movie, we learn Kirsten’s hostility is actually intended to train Harper for dealing with arrogant and inconsiderate coworkers like Charlie’s boss Rick, who’s simply a jerk.

How could anyone not support a popular film breaking gender stereotypes about powerful women?

A.P.: Though Set It Up proves many stereotypes wrong, the characters themselves are not totally above judging a book by its cover. When Harper and Charlie first meet, Harper pegs Charlie as the privileged, athletic jock stereotype who “keeps getting promoted for no reason.” Charlie ends up not being the person Harper thought he was, allowing us to relate to Harper’s imperfections and learn from her mistakes.

A: Between Set It Up and the equally popular The Kissing Booth, Netflix is picking up the slack in terms of feel-good flicks. Yes, these movies can be cheesy and unrealistic, but they are also tailored to a contemporary audience.

My heart is already racing thinking about the site’s upcoming summer rom-com releases, including To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Sierra Burgess is a Loser.

This summer will forever be known as the season of the modern rom-com revival. Hopefully, it’s here to stay.

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