Strictly speaking, I’m well aware that the responsibility for lighting doesn’t fall squarely on your shoulders. The director of cinematography (in this case, Matthew Clark), is at the head of your department. Above that, the director (first-time helmer Claire Scanlon), so really my grievances should be with them. But we try to spread around the praise - and the blame - on this site, because filmmaking truly is a huge team effort. So get ready, because you’re about to bare the brunt for why this movie only deserved to be released on Netflix instead of enjoying a nice, if not modest, theatrical run.
The issue, I’m assuming, was simply budget. Getting that crisp, high-key, aspirational life lighting just right has always been the secret sauce to what separates Hollywood movies from scruffy little indies. Great ideas don’t cost more than bad ones, and stars are always willing to slum it for a project with potential. But you can’t fake great lighting - no matter how good cameras have become. Everyone can see it, but few people can really articulate the feeling they get when the eyelight is just right on a star’s face, when every shadow is considered and shaped to the benefit of enhancing mood. For a romantic comedy like Set It Up, that often means flattering your stars at every turn - even when they’re supposed to working all night, with their hair disheveled and a face full of pizza grease. We’re still supposed to fall in love with their world - even if we’re rooting for them to escape their circumstance. And you certainly had faces for us to fall in love with.
Zoey Deutch, the likely love-child of Anna Kendrick and Ellen Page, seems to have been created in a lab as the perfect Millennial surrogate. Likewise, Glen Powell has been on a low-key charm offensive for the past couple of years (even when he doesn’t get cast in huge movies), and seems ready to break out in the right role. And after reading this script, damn straight he probably jumped as the chance to prove himself a leading man. The premise alone - two executive assistants try to get control of their lives by hooking up their workaholic bosses - is the kind of perfect, simple idea that clicks with the audience immediately. We’ve been waiting for a worthy successor to The Devil Wears Prada for over a decade, and this felt like it just might have the juice to go there.
Almost. Not quite.
As good as both Deuth and Powell are, and even their bosses (Taye Diggs and Lucy Lui), there were just too many corners cut in the lighting department for me to really get lost in the film. And the script really works. Beyond just hitting the story beat benchmarks you want and expect, there are some real dialogue gems in there - lines I’ve quotes several times since (like “you like someone because of, you love someone in spite of”). For that reason, my takeaway really is to recommend the movie. I just can’t shine as bright of a spotlight on it as i would have liked.
But I guess that makes two of us.