Anyone But You
Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell's smouldering chemistry is the worth seeing this Sydney-shot rom-com for alone.
December 22, 2023
Greenlighting Anyone But You with Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell as its leads must've been among Hollywood's easiest decisions. One of the rom-com's stars has been everywhere from Euphoria and The White Lotus to Reality of late, plus Sharp Objects and The Handmaid's Tale before that, and has a stint in the superhero realm on Madame Web to come. The other is fresh off feeling the need for speed in Top Gun: Maverick, including getting sweaty and shirtless in the beach scene. They both drip charisma. If this was the 80s, 90s or 00s, they each would have an entire segment of their filmographies dedicated to breezy romantic comedies like this Sydney-shot film, and probably more than a few together. From here, they might achieve that feat yet — because if there's much ado about anything in Anyone But You, it's about how well its two main talents shine as a pair.
Regardless of that gleaming casting, director and co-writer Will Gluck crafts his first adult-oriented flick in 12 years — since Friends with Benefits, with Annie and the two Peter Rabbit movies since — as if it's still two, three or four decades back. The gimmick-fuelled plot, the scenic setting, the swinging between stock-standard and OTT supporting characters: they're all formulaically present and accounted for in Anyone But You. Also eagerly splashed in is the picture's biggest twist, courtesy of its filmmaker and co-scribe Ilana Wolpert (a feature first-timer sporting writing and story-editing credits on High School Musical: The Musical: The Series on her resume). With Easy A, Gluck took inspiration from The Scarlet Letter, giving it a modern-day remake. Now, complete with some character names to match (there's no Dogberry, though, but there is a dog), ample matchmaking gossip and lines from the play clumsily dotted around the sets for viewers to see, Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing scores the overt riffs.
Always apparent as well: the fact that, even as it follows in the Bard of Avon's footsteps, Anyone But You's story constantly comes second to Sweeney and Powell's smouldering chemistry. Plus, most of its obvious jokes only land because the twosome sell them, and the whole movie. Takes on Shakespeare's 16th-century-penned, 17th-century-published rom-com have graced the big screen before. In the past 30 years, see: 1993's with Emma Thompson (What's Love Got to Do with It?) and Kenneth Branagh (A Haunting in Venice) as Beatrice and Benedick, and Branagh directing, and also 2012's with Buffyverse alums Amy Acker (The Watchful Eye) and Alexis Denisof (How I Met Your Father) for Joss Whedon (their guiding hand on Buffy and Angel). But this one is as merry as the day is long about being a playground for Sweeney and Powell first and foremost.
Law student Bea (Sweeney) and finance bro Ben (Powell) meet-cute over a restroom key in a busy cafe. She's desperate to use the facilities, the staff won't let her unless she buys something, the line is morning-rush long and he claims that she's his wife to help. So begins a dreamy day of flirting, walking, talking, cooking grilled-cheese sandwiches and connecting over deep secrets like Gluck is fashioning a sped-up version of the Before trilogy, too. That heavenly first date ends badly the next morning, however. More pain is in store when Bea's sister Halle (Hadley Robinson, Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty) starts dating Ben's best friend Pete's (GaTa, Dave) sister Claudia (Alexandra Shipp, Barbie) months later. When an engagement is next, cue Bea and Ben's feud going international at the destination wedding in Australia, then getting a shakeup when the quarrelling duo pretend that they're together.
There's kindness in this faux truce, alongside trickery and self-interest. Bea and Ben are trying stop their squabbling ruining the nuptials, yes, but they're attempting to get her parents to back off from campaigning for a reunion with her ex-fiancé Jonathan (Darren Barnet, Gran Turismo: Based on a True Story) at the same time — and to make his own past love Margaret (model-turned-acting debutant Charlee Fraser), Claudia and Pete's Australian cousin, jealous. Anyone But You's protagonists are also well-aware that the rest of the wedding party is conspiring to push them into love, subscribing to the whole "fighting means you like them" theory, and quickly tired of overhearing conversations that they're meant to about each other. Romantic-comedy logic dictates what happens next, of course, as packaged with slapstick gags, literal bathroom humour, sing-alongs, farce everywhere, as much flaunted bare flesh as an Aussie beach, and far more horniness than has been typically seen in 2010s and 2020s cinema.
Every expected narrative beat is struck, then. Almost every genre cliche is hit as well. Nodding to other rom-com wedding flicks — My Best Friend's Wedding co-stars Dermot Mulroney and Rachel Griffiths play Bea's mum and dad, and the latter is also a Muriel's Wedding alum — is also heartily on the menu. So are fish-out-of-water Americans-in-Australia jokes, and being cheesily Aussie via koalas, endless shots of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House to make both Tourism Australia and Destination NSW proud, and Bryan Brown (Faraway Downs) and Joe Davidson (Neighbours) playing the stereotypical parts. The vision of Sydney that the film inhabits is not only overseas tourist bait, but a one-percenter paradise, as evidenced by the sprawling seaside home of Pete and Claudia's parents (Brown and Star Trek: Picard's Michelle Hurd) that becomes the movie's on-screen base.
And yet, as Anyone But You needs and knows with gleeful self-awareness that it's going to get, Sweeney and Powell ace their performances and rapport, and couldn't be more watchable in the process. While no one has a particularly difficult job — least of all cinematographer Danny Ruhlmann (True Spirit), with the film's two stars and a sunny, picturesque locale to lens — it's their lively back and forth and game-for-anything commitment that keeps the picture afloat. For months, this was the feature that sparked headline-grabbing off-screen rumours about life imitating art. Now, it's an audition piece for a second silver-screen team up. Back in the 80s, Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn did it (in Swing Shift and Overboard). The 90s had Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks (Joe vs the Volcano, Sleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail), plus Julia Roberts and Richard Gere (Pretty Woman and Runaway Bride), while it was Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey's (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and Fool's Gold) turn in the 00s. After Anyone But You, audiences won't want anyone but Sweeney and Powell to be next.
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