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‘Someone Great’ and the Continuing Netflix-ication of the Romantic Comedy

Soon every stage of life will have a corresponding ensemble film on the streaming service. But some Netflix rom-coms—like the phases that inspire them—are more memorable than others.

Netflix/Ringer illustration

Not every playlist can be wall-to-wall bangers; you need breathing room to give space between the emotional highs and lows. The protagonist of Someone Great, Netflix’s latest romantic comedy, knows this well. A music journalist set to leave behind New York, her 20s, and the relationship that spanned them, Jenny (Gina Rodriguez) lives out some of her final hours in the city that never sleeps to a precision-targeted selection of millennial anthems. The angsty breakup sex with her college boyfriend Nate (LaKeith Stanfield) goes down to Mitski’s “Your Best American Girl.” The cathartic, drunken dance party that follows the actual breakup is set to Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts.” The first of many nostalgic flashbacks is a supercut playing out to—what else?—Lorde’s “Supercut.” But there are also mellow interludes between these crescendos: The instrumental parts of Phoebe Bridgers’s “Motion Sickness” serve as a gentle de facto score while Jenny and her friends prepare for a big night out.

Someone Great is, itself, a more utilitarian entry in the streaming service’s growing rom-com repertoire. Last year’s savvily branded “Summer of Love” served as a statement of purpose: Netflix had spotted a gap in the market; set out to fill it; and with trademark maximalism, unleashed nearly a dozen examples in the space of just a few months. Judging by its ecstatic teen following, The Kissing Booth might be the most statistically successful of 2018’s bumper crop; assistant meet-cute Set It Up got critics to take notice; the sublimely sweet To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before combined youth appeal and Hughesian convention into a crossover phenomenon. Collectively, these offerings conditioned subscribers to expect from Netflix what they no longer could from the multiplex.

The Summer of Love eventually came to an end, though Netflix seems poised to start the cycle anew. Someone Great landed on customers’ home screen exactly a week after The Perfect Date, a vehicle for homegrown star Noah Centineo, and a week before The Last Summer, whose K.J. Apa may be a CW man, but many know from Riverdale’s secondary run on streaming. Between these adolescent-aimed features, Someone Great is ideally positioned to help Netflix maintain its hold on every corner of the market. Where high school comedies chronicle the beginning of young adulthood, Someone Great captures its end. The Last Summer is about a group of friends preparing to leave for college; Someone Great is about another one closing out the phase of their lives that began at NYU. Soon, every stage of maturity will have its own feather-light ensemble piece ready for couch viewing.

Set It Up and To All the Boys set the precedent for what to expect from a Netflix rom-com, and Someone Great helps solidify these movies’ shared template. The action contains plenty of calling cards for the romantic comedy as a whole: mysteriously spacious New York apartments; supportive best friends with their own story arcs, played by Pitch Perfect’s Brittany Snow and She’s Gotta Have It’s DeWanda Wise; a glamorous job whose workings induce eye twitches in those acquainted with said jobs. (The guffaw I let out when Jenny says she got a relocation bonus for her new Rolling Stone job may have woken the neighbors.) But Someone Great also includes trademarks of the Netflix rom-com in particular, a relatively new subgenre that nonetheless already boasts the volume to have recognizable tropes.

Where Set It Up was helmed by the sitcom veteran Claire Scanlon, Someone Great, too, sources its above-the-line talent from the world of TV. The film is written and directed by Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, creator of the short-lived rape-revenge dramedy Sweet/Vicious on MTV. Much like The Perfect Date aims to harness Centineo’s charisma in service of the Netflix brand, Someone Great pulls from the service’s pre-existing talent pool, at once vast and self-contained. The sophomore effort of She’s Gotta Have It will debut on Netflix in May; thanks to the CW’s pact with the streamer, many first came across Rodriguez’s breakthrough Jane the Virgin performance via binge. Supporting parts, too, go to performers already endeared to Netflix’s young audience. The goofy roommate in Set It Up is portrayed by a just-barely-pre-mega-fame Pete Davidson, the artisanal drug dealer in Someone Great by Daily Show correspondent and Twitter rock star Jaboukie Young-White.

Coupled with its compact 92-minute runtime, just barely longer than some installments of Game of Thrones, Someone Great continues the elision between film and TV that’s become one of Netflix’s calling cards; it doesn’t matter what you call the thing you’re watching, so long as you know you can find it under that big red N. More beneficially, the film also showcases the commitment to diversity that Netflix can occasionally wield to cynical effect, as it did following the cancellation of One Day at a Time, but here it comes with an investment of resources. Written and directed by a female filmmaker and featuring a cast composed largely of non-white stars, Someone Great showcases one of the upsides of Netflix’s quest for four-quadrant appeal.

For all the ways Someone Great fits seamlessly into the Netflix rom-com project, it doesn’t do much to distinguish itself from a crowded field. With Jane the Virgin airing its final season, Rodriguez is in the process of building a film career, graduating from a bit part in Annihilation to a starring role in the thriller Miss Bala, released to minimal fanfare earlier this year. Someone Great will doubtless earn her exposure, but also seems unlikely to replicate the coronation effect Set It Up had for Glen Powell or To All the Boys for both Centineo and Lana Condor. Jenny gives Rodriguez the opportunity to swear and act molly-high, neither of which are in character for Jane the Virgin’s Type-A, devoutly Catholic namesake. But the role also slightly mishandles her charms, crossing the line separating animated warmth from strained, theater-kid energy. The banter between Rodriguez and her costars can feel forced, in keeping with the impression Someone Great is following a blueprint rather than drafting one of its own.

In light of Someone Great’s place within the Netflix-verse, however, this quality means the film works precisely as intended. To own the rom-com as thoroughly as its current slate indicates Netflix would like, the streaming service doesn’t just need standard-bearers. It needs pleasant diversions to keep viewers primed for the next high point, if and when it comes. Someone Great builds to a neat, stock message about moving on: Embracing the end of things is healthy, because it leaves us ready for whatever’s to come. The lesson isn’t hard to take.