“Set It Up” is the best romantic comedy of the last 10 years


Photo Courtesy of IMDb

In the world of romantic comedies, it tends to be universally accepted that three actresses sit at the top of the throne: Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock and Meg Ryan. These actresses each appeared in a wide range of romantic comedies during the ‘90s and early 2000s, a period that is often referred to as “the golden age of the romantic comedy.” 

     Few romantic comedies released in the past 20 years have lived up to the expectations of the love story golden age. Many romantic comedy lovers, myself included, had resigned themselves to be great defenders of the golden age, believing the rom-com to be dead. However, at last, there is a romantic comedy that has captivated audiences like the classics, and there is finally a leading lady worthy of the attention of romantic saps everywhere. 

     “Set It Up” is a Netflix original romantic comedy released in 2018, directed by Claire Scanlon. Two assistants, played by Glen Powell and Zoey Deutch, set up their demanding employers, played by Taye Diggs and Lucy Liu, to fall in love, and per the typical flow of a romantic comedy, find themselves falling in love as well. 

     The film has quickly become a new favorite for seasoned romantic comedy watchers, with a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Since the film’s release four years ago, Deutch has spoken on the film’s success with “Interview Magazine,” speaking on the state of the genre. 

      “When ‘Set It Up’ came out, there was not a single rom-com on the scene.     Nobody was making rom-coms, nobody wanted to, it was a dirty word, a dirty genre. ‘Set It Up’ came out, was an accidental huge hit for Netflix,” said Deutch. 

     When it comes to romantic comedies, most people prefer the traditional formula, and that may be why this movie has experienced the success that other contemporary rom-coms have failed to grasp. Overthinking the plot of a romantic comedy is typically the film’s inevitable downfall. People like what’s coming to them, they like knowing what to expect. In a rom-com, there are a few elements that satisfy this scheme. 

     First, a good rom-com will always begin with “the meet cute,” or when the leads become acquainted with one another in an unexpected, yet charming way. In “Set It Up,” Deutch and Powell meet during a dispute over paying for their bosses’ dinners. Another vital factor that eventually leads to the main characters falling in love with each other is the conflict of an existing partner, which in this film is Charle’s stunning model girlfriend. 

     However, one of the most important  romantic comedy trope elements lies in the female lead: the manic pixie dream girl, or the characteristic found in the woman that leads the man to inevitably confess, “But you’re not like other girls!” While this trope has been relatively explored and discarded in recent years, elements of it still exist and arguably are worth keeping in a rom-com.

         In “Set It Up,” Harper’s “I’m not like other girls” qualities are more subtle and realistic. First, there is her sentimental interest and fascination with the elderly Olympics. Her main dream girl trait is revealed at a baseball game, when she complains to Charlie, “Guys think that they like girls who like sports. What they actually like is a girl in a very tight sports jersey, serving them wings and getting the terminology wrong. Guys like girls who like guys who like sports.”

While Deutch’s character exposes the reality of the manic, pixie girl trope in this line, her character still perpetuates this beloved romantic comedy trait. While Powell is delightfully dorky, as all the best romantic comedy men are, it is Deutch who captivates this film. The frazzled but enchanting presence of a rom-com woman is the key to an iconic lead.

What made actresses like Meg Ryan stand out in romantic comedies was the ability to occupy film space in a less obvious way. It is not the looks of Sally Albright in “When Harry Met Sally” that makes her a delightful lead, it is her character, which Deutch possesses. Prolific rom-com stars have become memorable for their ability to stand out within each film they are in. The Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman” is not the same Julia Roberts of “Notting Hill.” Similarly, the character Deutch plays in “Set It Up” is not the same as her character in the holiday film, “Something from Tiffany’s.” What remains static is her appeal and charm as a leading lady worth remembering. This is how a romantic comedy natural is made.


“Set It Up” is available to watch on Netflix.