“Zoey Deutch is the next America’s Sweetheart,” says Maxwell about the lead actress in the romantic comedy “Set It Up” he and I began watching together three minutes earlier on this Saturday afternoon.
I type his quote in the Google Doc I’m note-taking on. The Doc saves offline since I didn’t connect to Maxwell’s Wi-Fi because it’s Shabbat, I tell myself, and not because I am too lazy to find the password on his router.
We—two 34-year-old dudes, each obsessed with his own physique—are sitting on Maxwell’s black leather couch in front of his new 65-inch LED television, holding cans of Summer Solstice by Anderson Valley Brewing Company, in his apartment in Logan Circle he shares with his wife. There is no dog here. There isn’t even a cat. And, his wife is at work. It’s just two dudes on a couch watching a rom-com together.
Maxwell and I met one month earlier at a Shabbat dinner held at GatherDC. The group started discussing movies. We two then hijacked the conversation and struggled finding one movie we felt differently about, which meant we struggled finding one trait each disliked about the other since movies are THE BEST, which meant we were bonded
Maxwell and I decided to watch a movie and I’d write a blog post about it for GatherDC. Now, I’m using the excuse of writing a blog post for GatherDC for why we are watching Netflix’s sleeper hit “Set It Up” – because some dudes think they need justification to watch a rom-com.
In this movie, supporting actors Taye Diggs and Lucy Liu—once America’s Sweetheart?—run separate firms in New York City and treat their employees, including co-stars Deutch and Glen Powell, like scum. This movie is romanticizing an evil side of humanity.
But, this article’s intention isn’t to demonstrate how “Set It Up” uses Empire City’s enchantment to make you feel like you, too, should spend most of your waking hours trying to please a boss who degrades you for low pay. There’s Rotten Tomatoes for that. This article is about what I think of a rom-com as I’m watching it while sitting on a couch with Maxwell.
My history with rom-coms
One of my first thoughts is that this may be the first time I’ve watched a rom-com on a couch with another dude. Can that be true? That sounds absurd considering I’ve watched over 600 films just in the last five years.
Sure, I’ve rom-commed with women as an end to our dates. But deep down, I must have known it was more than that when, one time, halfway through watching a rom-com together, my date leapt from her spot on the couch to my lap. Instead of initiating a make-out, I continued rom-comming.
Instead of Netflix and chill, it should be Netflix and then chill.
I remember as a young teen, I sat on the couch next to one of my older brother’s best childhood friends, David, and belittled him for telling us all the rom-coms he’d recently watched. I wasn’t the only teaser, we all chimed in. David would talk about the meaning behind Runaway Bride while the rest of us would cackle. “Was it as good as “One Fine Day”, David? Please compare Richard Gere to George Clooney,” I can imagine the rest of us saying to David.
“I will, but first let me tell you about Tom Hanks in You’ve Got Mail!” I can also imagine David responding with. Here’s the thing about David: he didn’t seem to care what others thought of his fondness for rom-coms, or any other aspect of himself. And looking back, that’s one of the reasons I always admired him. David is now a pediatric surgeon in the Army, married with two kids, and I’m sure still rom-comming.
As “Set It Up” continues, I’m thinking less about whether I’ve rom-commed on a couch with another dude before and mostly I’m just thinking about the movie. I now have a quantity of thoughts and a level of feels that surprise me. I think if Maxwell and I watch Dumb and Dumber together, we’ll laugh until our abs ache and re-state lines over and over. If we watch The Departed, we’ll shout after each of the killings and then stay silent so as not to miss a single tense beat.
The “about-ness” of “Set It Up”
Instead, while watching “Set It Up”, we share our thoughts on what my former fiction writing professor Justin Tussing called the “about-ness” of the movie. That term refers to something beyond theme and more like the work’s soul, the purpose of the work, the meaning behind it and what it’s trying to teach us. Perhaps Maxwell and I feel like we can discuss about-ness right now because just being two dudes on a couch watching a rom-com together feels like a breach of our masculinity.
We embrace that breach now by discussing the story’s depth in a manner we otherwise wouldn’t have while in each other’s presence. Which means that same discussion of about-ness must also include the disclaimer that we only watched it because I had to write a story about it and needed him for back-and-forth banter to make the article funny and worth writing and reading. We think we need justification.
Typically I’d say about-ness is the most important thing about a book or movie, but not today.
The story we tell ourselves
All that really matters today is the acknowledgement that throughout my life, up until now, I allowed myself to believe the story that not only are rom-coms meant just for women to watch and discuss, but also that I’m not a “man” if I watch them. I can’t control the story others tell about me, just like there was no way David could have prevented us from teasing him for watching “The Beautician and the Beast”. But, we can control the story we tell ourselves.
Here’s the story I tell myself now: rom-coms demonstrate the truth in people and their relationships more so than any other movie genre does. Throughout my life I disqualified an entire genre of film that could have taught me about the human condition. That ends now, as I just added 21 rom-coms to my Netflix queue, some of which I hope to watch while sitting on a couch with Maxwell, David, or another dude.
About the Author. Benjamin Rubenstein is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you! Benjamin is the author of the Cancer-Slaying Super Man books. He earned his Master of Fine Arts degree from University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program. You can subscribe to his quarterly newsletter.
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