Rom-coms are not exactly famous for their accuracy in depicting romantic relationships. They’re actually infamous for doing the opposite: emphasizing love as a pure and indestructible force that surmounts any obstacle.
Growing up I’ve had the chance to watch an incredible number of rom-coms, some really good (“When Harry met Sally”), some really bad (“Rumor has it”), and some pretty good (“10 things I hate about you”). But the more romantic comedies I watched, the more I grew tired of them.
The reason for this is that this kind of movies tend to follow a specific predictable pattern and use always the same overly-romanticized tropes: run to the airport to stop your beloved from leaving, kissing in the rain, the man sleeps with someone else, the girl realizes that her boyfriend is horrible and breaks up with him to run away with the other guy etc…
Yet, Netflix surprised me lately with one of their latest movies “Set it up”. The trailer is pretty discouraging, since it seems to be the usual chick flick that also happens to have jokes every once in a while. But this is not the case.
“Set it up” actually is a romantic comedy that shows the middle finger to older rom-coms.
The movie basically tells the story of two assistants, Harper and Charlie, who work for the very successful, very rich but also very annoying Kirsten and Rick. They decide to “Cyrano” their bosses by changing their schedules to set up a meet cute, and after that they keep interfering in the relationship in order to keep them together.
Despite the “classic romantic comedy” appearance, this movie seems to take upon itself the mission to destroy all the old and tired romantic cliches and make the rom-com more contemporary. It does so by using the bosses as a reflection of the old tropes, and the assistants as the image of a new modern take.
In the movie Kirsten and Rick represent the old stereotypical romantic lead: attractive, rich, hardworking. This image of outer perfection is one of the most annoying things about rom-coms, since the character’s life is already fully realized, all they need to do to be “complete” is fall in love and have a happy family.
On the other hand, Harper and Charlie are not nearly as accomplished as their bosses. Both started out considering their job as assistants temporary, but now they’re stuck in a position they don’t want, too scared to quit.
They’re also not as confident in themselves as other older protagonists: Charlie expresses a cynical but very real view of the world saying basically that all jobs are equally horrible and all that matters is to find the one that pays the most. Harper is a writer who’s blocked by insecurity and can’t even start writing her articles because she fears that she might find out to not be talented.
The meet cute
This is probably the most famous trope of the genre, the two protagonists meet each other because of a surreal coincidence and (most of the times) fall in love immediately.
The two protagonists try as hard as they can to create this kind of situation for their bosses: the first time in an elevator ends disastrously and actually shows through the dialogue that those two people are polar opposites, the second time they’re basically forced to kiss as Harper and Charlie observe from far away and cheer mimicking the spectators of a romantic movie.
It seems the classical “they’re mean because they’re unhappy, all they need is love” type of situation. This is exactly what the plot of the movies is about, making them fall for each other in order to make them less annoying. Even if this strategy seems to work at the beginning, towards the end of the movie it’s clear that nor destiny nor their assistants can keep alive a relationship between two people that are simply incompatible.
Harper and Charlie’s relationship starts out as a friendship, and rather than immediately turning either into love or into sex, the two take their time to know each other and don’t even kiss until the end of the movie.
The gay best friend
The stereotypical flamboy who gives wise and sassy advises to the female lead in this movie is… Pete Davidson from SNL.
Not an ultra stylish, ultra effeminate man. Someone who doesn’t freak out or act like a predator when he meets a good looking heterosexual guy, but actually has a completely normal friendship and shares an apartment with one.
It’s not a prominent theme in the movie, but I was glad to finally see a female lead that doesn’t hide her greek goddess body behind some rags and expect me to be “surprised” by her beauty after a makeover.
Zoey Deutch’s Harper is cute yes, but normal. Unlike other leads she doesn’t go from ugly duckling to swan, because she doesn’t change in her appearence. She starts out as a quirky girl wearing normal outfits and she ends staying that way.
“Set it up” is certainly not a game-changer, and It will still take some time to wash away the prejudice that years and years of cliches have left in the rom-com reputation, but I’m glad that at least someone is trying to do it.