They are the foot soldiers of the affluent, the safety net of the successful.
They are routinely humiliated, some of them. They are anonymous, have credit for whatever miracles they perform stolen and get no respect at all.
“Set It Up” is another comedy that sends up the rage, hysteria and petty indignities of executive assistants — lives that are not their own, hours that are ungodly, endless errands, hours spent “on hold,” in lines, wrangling and cajoling.
They should have their own hashtag — “#ourlivesdontmatter.”
They endure the rage, hysteria and humiliation of their bosses, their “betters,” tirades that they pay forward on down the line, berating and begging service sector drones and interns who are not impressed with the punch line to every request/demand that their petulant, bratty imperious bosses insist they pass on.
“I will get fired!”
But that’s just the setting, the milieu, the icing on the cake. This is a romantic comedy, and as rare as it is for the big screen to give us one of those that works, it hurts doubly when one finally comes along, and it’s on Netflix.
Harper (Zoey Deutch) works for dragon lady and Dartmouth snob Kirsten (Lucy Liu) at a sports web start up.
Charlie (Glen Powell) is the put-upon exec assistant to volatile venture capitalist Rick (Taye Diggs). He must have pledged the right fraternity at the right Ivy League school to be standing outside an exclusive club, missing another meal waiting like a peon, putting his girlfriend on hold, for this jerk.
No, you don’t get to go home/go on a date after this long wait. You’re coming back to the office with Rick.
“Should I order you some dinner?”
“Of course not, I just had my damn dinner. Hold my juice. Open the damn door.”
Ten minutes later, “Where’s my dinner?”
That’s how Charlie and Harper “meet cute.” Kirsten and Rick both want food delivered, “or else.” Harper ordered it but has no cash, Charlie followed orders and did NOT order food. They work in the same building, two desperate, exhausted assistants, one deliver guy with two meals.
“This is DEF-CON 5!”
“You know ‘DEF-CON 5 means everything is like, totally safe?”
“You’re a MONSTER!”
His date’s given up, his roomie is a mouthy, salty gay guy (Pete Davidson) who, of course, closed the deal this night — again.
And Harper? Her roommate gets engaged later that night. Life is literally passing both of them by.
“I can’t leave until she leaves.”
“I’m always here. I NEVER leave.”
What they need, what they figure out, aside from the fact that they’re both 28 and have no lives, is that their bosses have no lives. Unless their dream is to become just like them, action must be taken — drastic Cyrano de Bergerac action.
“Cyrano? We are full-on ‘Parent Trapping’ them!”
They know their bosses too well, every phobia, quirk and predilection. They will never know. Charlie won’t hear it. Until Suze his perpetually disappointed model/girlfriend, bails. He’s in.
And without remembering how they met and not knowing the future, they plan their moves.
“We need a MEET CUTE.”
The game is afoot and the plot is hatched, spying, intervening, etc. Enlisting other underlings like the building maintenance man (Titus Burgess of “Kimmy Schmidt”) might help. Or not.
“Set It Up” runs with this sitcom set-up as far as it can, and then some. It gets by on witty banter, crackling-cute leads and not-wholly-overfamiliar NYC locations.
Liu is an old hand at doing “cruel” and self-absorbed. Diggs finds that it’s not a stretch for him, either. He throws an epic tantrum. What is adorable here is the suggestion that this “gotta find her a man/him a woman” conceit strips the rude right off their characters. They play the hell out of both extremes.
“Why are you still talking?”
Deutch, of “Before I Fall” and “Everybody Wants Some,” gives this the spark it needs, and Powell, of “Sand Castle” and Deutch’s “Everybody Wants Some” co-star, catches that spark and runs with it. This is tetchy, testy chemistry, even if each is dating somebody else now that they finally have free time.
Davidson, of “Saturday Night Live,” lands a couple of laughs, only when he interacts with Deutch. He serves as father-confessor/voice of reason to Charlie. Who has to figure out how important his own “meet cute” could be.
Katie Silberman’s script has a flip, zingy quality at its best. But like any rom-com that works, it takes at least one time-out to reach for the heart. Listen for the “Like because, love despite” speech. Good writing.
These hazing ritual/torment your assistant stories have been around since “Swimming With Sharks” and “The Devil Wears Prada.”
But the romantic twists here, the sharp on-the-same-page cast and sparkling banter — “It’s been so long since I drank, I have the tolerance of a fetus” — lift “Set it Up” beyond the wish-fulfillment fantasy banal, a rom-com real winner.
MPAA Rating: TV-14
Cast: Lucy Liu, Zoey Deutch, Glen Powell, Taye Diggs, Pete Davidson, Titus Burgess
Credits:Directed by Claire Scanlon, script by Katie Silberman. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:45