1 Hr., 45 Mins.
Set It Up / To All the Boys I've Loved Before August 21, 2018
The subjects are not meant to read these passionate missives. And that’s precisely the point: Because Lara Jean would rather daydream about a romance then actualize one, this is the only way she can get over all-consuming fixation without any real-life consequences to dirty the reverie.
Then something nightmarish happens. One day, during gym class, one of the boys Lara Jean has written to, the well-liked Peter (Noah Centineo), approaches her while she’s running laps. What comes out of his mouth embarrasses her so much that she faints, as if she were doing a Tallulah Bankhead impression. Says Peter, with a furrowed brow: “I appreciate it, but it’s never going to happen.” Lara Jean looks down. Peter is holding one of her secret letters.
This particular one was written in middle school, around the time the latter and our heroine kissed at a party. Later that day, another one of the fantasized-about inamoratos, Lucas (Trezzo Mahoro), gently confronts her. “You know I’m gay, right?” he asks.
Fuck! Upon returning home, Lara Jean sprints up to her room in an understandable panic. As she feared, the box is gone; apparently, it got mixed up with some Goodwill-donation bundles. “No …. no,” Lara Jean frets.
In To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Lara Jean both has to contend with the dramas which arise because of the letters and because of a harebrained scheme. Shortly after the fainting debacle, which leads to an impromptu kiss as a way to save face as another love-letter recipient (Israel Broussard) approaches, Peter proposes that he, with Lara Jean's help, enact a long-practiced rom-com trope: feign a relationship. The goal: help him win back his vile ex-girlfriend, Gen (Emilija Baranac).
Lara Jean agrees to the sure-to-fail stratagem, knowing that it will make for a sort-of-fair tit-for-tat trade-off to the aforementioned track-based kiss. Plus, it will better enable her to avoid further confrontation with other envisaged boyfriends. But this comes with much one-on-one time between Peter and Lara Jean, which, inevitably, will rid their sham of a romance of its artifice.
To All the Boys I've Loved Before, a recent, Netflix-distributed romantic comedy bound to eclipse the tepidly received The Kissing Booth in terms of fandom-induced popularity, is a feel-good, but not too maudlin, pleasure — a teen romance glutted with sparkling dialogue and distinguished performances.
The plot wouldn’t be out of place in a John Hughes movie, but the feature, fortunately, is so smart that it knows it. The self-awareness peaks when Lara Jean convinces the Fight Club (1999)-obsessed Peter to watch one of her favorite movies, 1984’s Sixteen Candles, and assures him that she still loves it even though it’s exceedingly dated. Self-cognizance is also supported by the structuring: Though the film possesses more than a few rom-com platitudes, it spends far more time allotting scenes to showcase interpersonal relationships than it does ones that muck up an increasingly complicated, rom-com-familiar plot.
Centineo, a sincere actor best known for his supporting performance in Freeform’s The Fosters (2013-'18), is a revelation: more charming than Blane McDonough, more considerate than Jake Ryan. Even better is Condor, who is warm, shrewd, and memorable — among the most lovable of the teen heroines caught in romantic crossfires. I wouldn’t mind spending more time with her and her page-bound toy boys. Since the Jenny Han novel on which the movie is based comes with two sequels, maybe such a desire isn’t a pipedream.
ometimes, Lara Jean has a crush so intense that it becomes hard for her to see straight. It isn’t the asking-out of a possible paramour that will absolve her from her spinning head, though: she doesn’t date. Grabbing a fussily decorated card, a new pen, and an envelope is what induces a catharsis. In a fever, Lara Jean (Lana Condor) will write a love letter to her latest imagined flame. Then, she'll unceremoniously stick the note in a decorative box kept hidden in her closet. It will never be sent. She’s done this for years.
1 Hr., 39 Mins.
and business industries, to be exact — it stars Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell as goggle-eyed hopefuls still in the assistant-to-the-boss stages of their respective careers. Harper (Deutch), 25, is incessantly scheduling and coffee-getting for Kirsten (Lucy Liu), the demanding editor-in-chief of a premier sports publication. Charlie (Powell), a less-green 28, is trapped under the tutelage of the moody venture capitalist Rick (Taye Diggs). Harper dreams of someday writing tear-inducing long-reads; her latest, and probably best, story idea revolves around the odds-defying spectacle of geriatric Olympics. Charlie, by contrast, simply wants the best job and the most money — enjoyment, or personal investment, doesn’t matter to him.
They happenstantially meet one night after ordering dinner for their designated employers nearly becomes a calamitous task. (In the end, Kirsten and Rick get their meals, while Charlie gets to munch on a decorative pickle. Harper gets a couple hearty gulps of air.)
The next day, in the name of reimbursement, Harper and Charlie meet up again. Their rapport is easygoing; we’d expect romance if the latter weren’t dating Suze (Joan Smalls), a stuffy fashion model. Some time into their conversation, after both complain that they have little time to devote to their personal lives, Charlie jokes that their situations would vastly improve if Kirsten and Rick simply got laid. How gross, Harper initially thinks. But then ….
The eponymous setting up finds Harper and Charlie pulling strings to get their bosses together; it isn’t until the final act, after a handful of obligatory, climactic crises come out of the woodwork, that our down-on-their-luck leads realize that maybe they should be together.
That protagonist-centric romance is bookended isn’t a burying-the-lede sort of travesty, though. It, complementarily, allows the lightning-quick-delivered zingers embedded in Katie Silberman's witticism-stuffed script to really sing. It also, in the Moonlighting (1985-’89) style, benefits from underscoring the clear, but unspoken, chemistry between the leads. Harper and Charlie do eventually kiss, but not until just before the closing credits roll. In a movie so inspired and quick-witted, it feels like a reward rather than a delayed cherry-topping.
Liu, provided with one of her best roles in a long time, is particularly good in the film: she exhibits the sort of terrifying — albeit thrilling — control that brings to mind her ferocious performance in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Vol. 1, from 2003. Diggs is convincingly brusque; Powell, despite exterior forgettability, is a charmer, slicing through the expeditious dialogue as if he were Cary Grant.
The movie’s biggest asset, though, is the 23-year-old Zoey Deutch. I remember watching her for the first time, about two years ago, in Everybody Wants Some!!, Richard Linklater’s long-anticipated spiritual sequel to 1993’s Dazed and Confused, in which Powell also starred. I recall thinking — during an early-in-the-movie phone conversation with a possible love interest — that this actress was a star.
While watching, Set It Up, my conviction didn’t change. Zoey Deutch, in no doubt, is a star. In my review of Everybody Wants Some!!, I compared her to Julia Roberts, though with some hesitation. No hesitation now: she excels in, and maybe even betters, a role the toothy actress might have livened up in her 20s. Fittingly, Set It Up is an all-around betterment, too.
Set It Up: B+
To All the Boys I've Loved Before: B+
s Netflix ushering in something of a romantic-comedy renaissance? With To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, and, previously, the June-released Set It Up, one is inclined to wonder: both are bona-fide-great examples of the joys that can be brought on by the formulaic, but heartwarming if done right, genre.
Set It Up makes for an adult alternative to the friendlier To All the Boys. Set in a cutthroat, metropolitan professional world — the adjacently oriented journalism