Believe it or not, there was once an era where studio comedies could earn $100 million on the regular, dominated by the likes of Big Momma’s House, Norbit, Adam Sandler and Kevin James movies. McConaughey, Kate Hudson, and Katherine Heigl could also print a mint for their shitty romcoms. It was a dark period.
And then came Rotten Tomatoes, and suddenly, people decided to stop spending big-screen money to go see shitty comedies. But good comedies — often of the Judd Apatow ilk — could still do very well in the marketplace.
But then came Netflix, and with it, another paradigm where it concerns comedy. Namely: Is this comedy good, and does this comedy need to be seen on the big screen? This new paradigm has essentially killed conventional studio comedies at the multiplex. In order to succeed now, a comedy needs to pass the Rotten Tomatoes test, it must push boundaries or say something new (Girls Trip), and/or feature action elements that live up to the big-screen experience (Game Night, Central Intelligence).
Conventional comedies, for the most part, are dead on the big screen, which is not to say that a comedy like Tag or Blockers or Life of the Party can’t make money; it’s just that it needs to also earn a large part of its revenue from the digital streaming and licensing markets.
But it’s also created a different set of expectations for the streaming comedy. In fact, I think that Netflix may have spent the last year shitting out substandard romcoms like When We First Met and Irreplaceable You in order to lower those expectations. And now? All we really want from a Netflix movie is adequacy, a little charm, a few great jokes, and solid leads.
Netflix’s latest, Set It Up, is absolutely perfect in that regard. It is the quintessential Netflix comedy. It’s the perfect movie to watch on your laptop while lying in bed, and that is not by any means an insult. Granted, it’s a movie that I would’ve been disappointed in if I’d spent money to watch it on the big screen, but on Netflix? I kind of loved it, even if it is as cookie-cutter a rom-com as can be.
Set It Up stars Zoey Deutch as Harper and Glen Powell as Charlie, two overworked assistants with demanding, borderline abusive bosses, Kirsten (Lucy Liu) and Rick (Taye Diggs). Their bosses never leave the office, so the assistants can never leave the office, either. So Harper and Charlie strike upon a plan: Manipulate their bosses into dating each other. It’s a huge success. Kristen and Rick spend more time together and become more pleasant, allowing Harper and Charlie to spend more time away from the office and, eventually, develop a romantic interest in each other, which they must also navigate as the relationship between their bosses splinters.
There’s nothing at all boundary-pushing about Set It Up, but it works to phenomenal effect thanks to 1) the lowered expectations of a Netflix movie, and 2) Zoey Deutch. Holy shit, Zoey Deutch is amazing. She was already the best thing about that mediocre James Franco comedy, Why Him?, and she was phenomenal in Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some, but here, she has set the bar for a romantic lead in a Netflix comedy. She is electric: Funny, clever, and unimaginably cute. She’s basically the streaming Meg Ryan. She’s absolute magic, and I honestly don’t know if the male romantic lead, Glen Powell, is also good, or if Zoey Deutch elevates him so much that he seems great in this.
Either way, I genuinely cannot recommend this enough as a “Netflix comedy.” If I’m being honest, there haven’t been many truly memorable Netflix Original movies (I’d place that number at 3), and Set It Up is no exception, but it is nevertheless a genuinely delightful, entertaining romantic comedy, the likes we haven’t seen outside of The Big Sick in a number of years.