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Netflix's 'Set It Up' and the joys of event-streaming movies with friends (and mimosas)

Netflix's 'Set It Up' and the joys of event-streaming movies with friends (and mimosas)
Glen Powell and Zoey Deutch in a scene from "Set It Up." (KC Baily / Netflix)

A funny thing happened a few months ago when I bit the bullet and hit play on the Netflix original romantic comedy that had been relentlessly popping up in my menu screen. The high school-set YA adaptation about a teenage girl crushing on her BFF’s brother was titled, innocuously enough, “The Kissing Booth.”

Ensconced in the safety of my own couch, there were no witnesses around to judge my life (or Netflix) choices; 105 peppy and melodramatic minutes later, a long-dormant hunger within me had been awakened. Like fellow streaming original “Ibiza,” which I immediately watched next, “The Kissing Booth” proved frustratingly lacking in many ways. But both scratched rom-com itches I hadn’t felt since the umpteenth Katherine Heigl vehicle killed the genre.

Then along came the trailer for “Set It Up,” the zippy traditional rom-com Netflix launched in June, starring Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell as assistants who scheme to lighten their work lives by hooking up their bosses (Taye Diggs, Lucy Liu).

It had throwback banter. Meet-cutes. Scheming. Crackling chemistry! It looked … actually good? How could this be?

My appetite had been whetted for the second coming of the Hollywood rom-com, and it didn’t matter that it wouldn’t arrive in theaters, but on the small screen. To my surprise, I discovered I wasn’t alone. Other women I knew were also totally excited to watch Netflix’s new original movie, intrigued by a promising trailer and all those targeted ads in our streaming queues.

So we decided to watch it together. With lots and lots of mimosas.

We were a long-starved tribe with a shared hunger for movies that at least, like “Set It Up,” reminded us of a time when rom-coms were good.

Jen Yamato

Netflix is an inherently lonely medium of consumption. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: When you spend your days digitally chained to your devices and braving connection amid the clanging din of the Twittervoid, a night in alone with your streaming queue can feel like luxurious self-care.

Sometimes you just want to curl up on the couch with a glass of wine and a hoodie full of popcorn and binge-watch your stories with no one around to interrupt — your only companion the streaming app surreptitiously sorting your viewing habits into “taste clusters” funneled into Netflix’s proprietary trove of secrets.

We live in an age when our apps know our likes, dislikes and habits better than our partners do. That’s how I’d hit play on “The Kissing Booth,” a movie I had no earthly intention to see. Was it perfect? No. But the teen flick turned out to be exactly what someone somewhere at Netflix was surely hoping it would be: my gateway drug back into a world I’d thought perished long ago — the world of romantic comedies.

 
Jacob Elordi and Joey King in the Netflix "gateway drug" "The Kissing Booth." Marcos Cruz / Netflix

According to Netflix, nearly 80 million users, or 2/3 of its global audience, have watched a romantic film on the service in the last year. If you liked “Set It Up” you’re probably marking your calendars for “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” (Aug. 17) and “Sierra Burgess Is a Loser” (Sept. 7) — and if you weren’t before, you’re welcome: They’re the next rom-coms savvy Netflix has lined up to follow the anecdotal successes of “Set It Up” and “Kissing Booth.”

Netflix’s push into the movie business in recent years has largely been a numbers game, and — although we’ve seen precious few viewing stats from the company — it feels safe to say the streamer has seen more misses than hits. Many a “Netflix original” disappears with a whimper (if that) into the vast abyss of its streaming catalog. And with a mountain of controversies from Cannes to Korea, and critics from Christopher Nolan to Steven Spielberg, it has yet to overcome its reputation as a movie killer in the ongoing theatrical versus streaming debate.

So what made this Netflix original a must-see-with-friends event-movie?

Earlier this year, curiosity drove me to check out Netflix original films “Mute,” “Bright” and “The Cloverfield Paradox” with a few other mildly-piqued pals. Even with huge Netflix marketing pushes (“‘The Cloverfield Paradox’: Watch it after the Super Bowl!”) — and in part because of the hype — the splashy, big-budget genre duds were the event-streaming let-downs of the year.

The buzz around “Set It Up,” on the other hand, felt organic. We found each other on Twitter. And in a midsummer frame crowded with robust theatrical offerings like “Hereditary,” “Ocean’s 8” and “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” eight women headed not to a movie theater but into my living room to watch two good-looking young people fall in love.

We’d suffered a great paucity of the kinds of films studios used to invest in. We were a long-starved tribe with a shared hunger for movies that at least, like “Set It Up,” reminded us of a time when rom-coms were good.

“Set It Up” has a 105-minute run time but took nearly two hours to finish because, frankly, we had to take breaks to commiserate over Harper and Charlie’s too-familiar work nightmares, horrible bosses and dating fiascos; marvel at what the movie got right in grand rom-com tradition; and rewind scenes we missed the first time because our LOLs drowned out the dialogue.

In the middle of watching “Set It Up,” one friend felt validated not only by the delightful tale of a 20-something female workaholic scrapping for happiness in a ruthless and demanding industry — but because we were watching it together.

“If I was watching this home alone by myself,” she exclaimed through tears from laugh-crying, “I would be sad.”

Most everyone went home and watched “Set It Up” again that weekend — and next month, when the next rom-com hits streaming, we’ll stock up on the mimosas and do it again.

Glen Powell and Zoey Deutch in a scene from "Set It Up."
Glen Powell and Zoey Deutch in a scene from "Set It Up." K C Bailey / Netflix

Related:

Move over, Zac Efron: Noah Centineo is this summer's new teen heartthrob

Where has the romantic comedy gone? To Netflix

jen.yamato@latimes.com

@jenyamato

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