2021, Movies

Set! (2021, Scott Gawlik)

This documentary feels like it should be a Christopher Guest film, given both its focus – competitive table setting – and its kooky cast of characters. But it’s all too real as competitive table setting is a thing at county fairs in California, apparently.

If you’ve seen a documentary about a group of people getting ready for a competition, you’ve essentially seen this movie. There are any number of documentaries like this and of course there’s also Best in Show.

But the advantage of this form is that if you get the right type of competition and you get the right people, it can be quite entertaining for the audience. In this case, it’s unlikely most of us know about competitive table setting, so that’s one advantage. And then the people in this competition are, well, something. Some of them really do feel like they could be in a Christopher Guest movie if they were only slightly exaggerated.

  • There’s a woman who’s been doing it for a couple of decades and who wins frequently
  • There’s a mother-daughter team that has been competing against each other for most of the past two decades
  • There’s the “artist” who tries to provoke debates with her tables (seriously)
  • There’s a woman who preserves her tables from previous competitions (with up to 8 in her home at any one time)
  • There’s a woman who hasn’t done it long but seems to win every time (she seems to understand the judges’ minds)
  • There’s an aquafit team
  • And there’s a man who is slowly losing everything.

With the exception of the man, who is really sympathetic and easy to root for, these people are, well, kind of silly. And they almost all say things that let you know they don’t know much about the world outside of southern California and their passions. They are characters and they’re the kind necessary for a movie like this to succeed.

Humans are a fascinating bunch and a movie like this, about a competition like this is a reminder that we will find all sorts of weird things to care about and take seriously.


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