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Pop Culture Advent Calendar, Day 18: Set It Up

Inspired by NPR, every day (gulp) from December 1st to 24th, I will be highlighting

a pop culture moment from this year that I loved. Today I talk about the romcom that launched a thousand conversations.

I really enjoyed Netflix’s original romcom Set It Up, released in the spring. Starring Lucy Liu, Taye Diggs, Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell. Zoey and Glenn play two overworked and underpaid assistants. Zoey’s wants to be a sports writer, and Glenn Powell’s characters wants to be dome vague finance thing, so they are both working for the leaders of their field, who unfortunately turn out to be monstrous bosses. So they do what all our romcom alternative personas would do – they try and get them to fall in love so they they, as assistants, can have some free time; through the process they become friends and the rest is romcom trope history!

Director Claire Scanlon and her team do a great job of paying homage to the golden age of romcoms, even down to the look of the film, and the soundtrack. In retrospect, thet maybe did too good a job, and didn’t necessarily allow Set It Up to be strong enough to be its own entity. I was listening to an episode of the podcast Thirst Aid Kit, and co-host and writer Nichole Perkins said that it felt a little bit like it came from a rom com generator, which I think is the perfect description for Set It Up.

Also, casting is key for romantic comedies, and I think that the two leads – Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell have a heck of a lot of talent, and a lot of chemistry, I always thought that they would be better as friends, rather than romantic partners.

But there is a lot of good. There are a lot of good lines. There is a scene with a jewellery store clerk who should be a comedic star. There is a hilarious line Zoey quips about how men don’t like women who like sports, they only think they do, and another about how Glenn Powell, with his frat boy looks, doesn’t need as much as she does, as he’s destined to fail upwards. A homage to the golden age but with the self-awareness that it’s in 2018!

Set It Up was the rocket that launched the ‘romcom boom’ discussion, and the wonderings about why we don’t have as many grounded, fun well-written romantic cinematic releases any more. And while this has been a discussion that has been going on for a long time, I think Set It up’s release, and what it was trying to do – be a homage – really ignited that fire and brought it forward in pop culture discourse.

And we all lapped it up! People were delighted when it was released, and so we should be! It has been so long we’ve had a release so unabashedly delightful about what it is, about who it is for, even if it wasn’t perfect. And Set it Up was the appetiser for the real romcom queen of the year. Romcoms vary in quality (although so does every genre in film) and can be very ‘problematic’, but it astounds me that we so often overlook the ones that are well written, that launch careers, that have the staying power that many Oscar nominees and winners don’t. It is only this week that I found out that Legally Blonde and 10 Things I Hate About You had the same writing duo. I love Legally Blonde and 10 Things is one of my favourite movies. So that ignorance is on me, but that should be enshrined somewhere! So often we’re quick to label men creative geniuses, but women who create quick, funny, relatable and moving artforms that generations of people can relate to are kept out of that wheelhouse. A true shame!

Anyway, shout out to Lucy Liu’s wardrobe, the true star of this film. Also, Lucy Liu just turned 50, like MY GOD.

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