What we're watching: Netflix rom-coms

Despite fading out in theaters, streaming has revived the genre.

Netflix's content push has included a slew of romantic comedy movies released at the same time they've become hard to find in theaters. Senior News Editor Richard Lawler takes a look at three of them and explains which ones could be worth your time.

Richard Lawler

Richard Lawler
Senior News Editor

Set It Up

One of the first movies arriving in 2018 on Netflix under an apparent mandate for more romantic comedies, Set It Up splits the difference between the other two movies I'll mention. Two overworked office drones devise a plan to get their bosses together in a mix of the Cyrano and Fake Relationship tropes -- even if their targets don't know about it. Of course, making the plan happen brings two people together over a long period of time and because of what genre this is we can guess what happens next.

There's nothing fundamentally wrong with this film, however, it felt more like an algorithmically generated synthesis of romantic comedies than anything new. I liked the actors in it -- including everyone's Twitter follower Taye Diggs and Lucy Liu -- and how they relate to each other, the script is appropriately funny and the drama isn't over-produced. The only problem is that I couldn't point to anything this movie that hasn't been present in every romantic comedy from roughly 1990 on. From a Netflix point of view it would appear to make perfect sense -- if you liked My Best Friend's Wedding or Serendipity or 500 Days of Summer then we have a recommendation for you. Just don't expect any surprises.

Sierra Burgess is a Loser

What if an episode of Catfish were told from the other side, with the person perpetrating the fraud cast as a hero? That icky feeling you're getting -- consider what it would have been like if the original movie had ended with Nev saying "let's give this a shot" -- is pretty much what it's like to watch Sierra Burgess.

Despite excellent performances from a cast including Shannon Purser (Stranger Things), Noah Centineo and RJ Cylar (Me, Earl and the Dying Girl; I'm Dying Up Here) the movie fails to explain why anyone should root for the title character. I can't recall anything she did during the movie that wasn't self-serving or outright horrible, and in the end, she's almost inexplicably rewarded for it. As near as I can tell, the moral of the story is that if you commit sexual assault, identity theft, hacking and doxxing -- and then never apologize for or acknowledge any of these things -- you'll get everything you want out of life. It's an unfortunate conclusion to a movie with so many other strong elements, and I wish I could see these actors in something better.

To All the Boys I've Loved Before

To All the Boys I've Loved Before is not a perfect movie, but it's the best romantic comedy I've seen in years, and deftly handles topics that could easily go bad in the wrong hands (more on that later). Our protagonist, Lara Jean Song Covey, has written (but not sent) love letters to several boys that she likes but for one reason or another has decided she can't address directly. Inevitably the letters are sent, and drama ensues, complete with the rapid introduction of everyone's favorite trope (or maybe just mine?) The Fake Relationship.

Noah Centineo is most notable here playing Peter Kavinsky, a leading character who has attracted attention for everything from understanding consent to careful handling of snacks during a pillow fight. Lana Condor delivers as Lara Jean, offering a complex character that develops believably throughout the movie, learns from her mistakes and seems like someone you want to root for -- even if her taste in 80s movies is a bit questionable.

Like Sierra Burgess, the troubles of modern day technology become a plot point when someone uses Instagram to share a video meant to humiliate its target. What's different here is the tone of everything that happens afterward -- instead of it simply being dropped it's dealt with as the serious issue it is for a high-schooler (or anyone else) dealing with having their privacy invaded. Of Netflix's recent slate of genre movies, I can't recommend this one enough, and since the book it's based on apparently belongs to a series, I'm ready for a sequel.

"IRL" is a recurring column in which the Engadget staff run down what they're buying, using, playing and streaming.