Thursday, February 29, 2024

“ANYONE BUT YOU”

THE STORY – Despite an amazing first date, Bea and Ben’s initial attraction quickly turns sour. However, when they unexpectedly find themselves at a destination wedding in Australia, they pretend to be the perfect couple to keep up appearances.

THE CAST – Sydney Sweeney, Glen Powell, Alexandra Shipp, GaTa, Hadley Robinson, Michelle Hurd, Dermot Mulroney, Darren Barnet & Rachel Griffiths

THE TEAM – Will Gluck (Director/Writer) & Ilana Wolpert (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 103 Minutes


The romantic comedy has desperately needed a refresh for a while now. Centuries after the first plays to follow a couple from their first meeting to their wedding day made audiences laugh, cry, and propose marriage themselves, we still follow the same basic plot outline and contrived misunderstandings. The time-tested formula has proven surprisingly durable, but at this point, in the year of our Lord 2023, it’s not unreasonable to want something more out of our rom-coms. One person’s boring trope is another’s comfort food, though, and if something’s not broken, Hollywood certainly won’t be the ones to fix it. Instead, they’ll throw two gorgeous movie stars at it and pray that their combined charisma is enough to keep audiences distracted from the fact that the entire film around them is riddled with holes. The team behind “Anyone But You,” has put their money behind two things in order to get audiences into theaters: The aforementioned movie stars, in this case, up-and-comers Glenn Powell (“Top Gun: Maverick“) and Sidney Sweeney (“Euphoria”), and an R-rating that promised to push the boundaries of what we usually see in a romantic comedy. The final product doesn’t make good on the latter promise, but Powell and Sweeney deliver on their end of the deal, turning in performances that make good on all the movie star promises they’ve displayed in prior projects. If there’s any justice, this will push them both to the top of Hollywood’s A list.

All enemies-to-lovers stories owe a debt to Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” the granddaddy of the genre. It takes a lot to equal the sparkling dialogue that brings so much sexual tension to Beatrice and Benedick’s bickering, though, and “Anyone But You” is about as far from Shakespeare as you can get. The constant allusions to Shakespeare’s masterpiece – our leads are named Bea (Sydney Sweeney) and Ben (Glenn Powell); quotes from the play are seen throughout as onscreen text “naturally” occurring in the film’s world – do the film no favors, though, only serving to underline just how flimsy the material is: Bea and Ben meet-cute at a coffee shop where she desperately needs to use the bathroom. After spending the rest of the day falling in love, Bea gets scared and sneaks out of Ben’s place the following day, and a hurt Ben lashes out to his best friend Pete (GaTa) in full view of Bea, who thought better of her actions and turned around. When it’s revealed that Bea’s sister (Hadley Robinson) is dating and later getting married to Pete’s sister (Alexandra Shipp), and the two are reintroduced to each other, the heat Bea and Ben once shared goes ice cold. Fearing that this animosity will ruin the destination wedding in Australia, the happy couple try to push Bea and Ben together, and our feuding fornicators decide it would be advantageous to pretend as though they’re together, mostly to get everyone off their backs. The fact that their being together will likely stop Bea’s parents from pushing her ex Jonathan (Darren Barnet) on her and rekindling something inside Ben’s old flame Margaret (Charlee Fraser) is just icing on the cake. The closer they get to each other, though, the more that old flame gets rekindled, and before they know it, neither Bea nor Ben can tell whether they’re falling for each other again or not.

The broad strokes of the story work, but little details throughout cause consternation. Sometimes, these are minor inconsistencies on the script level, such as how Ben says in all seriousness that he doesn’t do cardio (which becomes a minorly important plot point) after we watch him do cardio exercises on the beach. Other times, these slips occur in the production and costume design, like in a hilarious scene where the wedding party is on a hike, and Bea finds a spider that has crawled up Ben’s leg. Shocked, Ben throws off all his clothes and has to put on Bea’s bottoms in order not to be completely naked. She’s wearing spandex shorts, but when their switcheroo gets revealed, what he’s wearing looks like a speedo, even though it’s clearly meant to be what Bea was wearing. These may be minor details, but the film is so full of them that one wonders how professional moviemakers got away with it.

Despite the shoddiness of the film around them, Powell and Sweeney are so good that all the flaws in the filmmaking really do fade away. Much has been made of the film’s terrible trailer, which somehow made two of our most charismatic, talented, up-and-coming actors look like they had neither charisma nor talent. But in the film, that is happily not the case. Sparks fly immediately from their first meeting, and their chemistry only gets stronger when they start flinging barbed banter back and forth. They both have the heightened beauty and charisma of classic movie stars, which director Will Gluck recognizes as the most valuable asset he could possibly have. Every shot of them is practically a paean to their good looks, and both performers have so much charisma on their own that it’s a wonder the film doesn’t combust whenever they have to share the screen. It’s disappointing that the film’s R rating doesn’t end up amounting to very much – we see Margaret’s boobs as she sunbathes on the beach, a quick comedic flash of foreskin, and Powell’s butt, as well as plenty of f-bombs – especially since Powell and Sweeney are game to do whatever ridiculous, embarrassing comedy bits the film asks of them, and clearly have no problem showing off their lithe physiques. That the film loses its nerve in this regard isn’t surprising, as Hollywood has always been highly prudish about sex, but it does feel like a missed opportunity to spice up this otherwise bland romantic comedy. It manages to be entertaining enough within that blandness, largely thanks to a game supporting cast (Dermot Mulroney proves an adept physical comedian as Bea’s father) and textbook deployment of the classic rom-com narrative beats. “Anyone But You” may not tread any new ground, but if you want to watch pretty people fight, fuck, and fall in love, Powell and Sweeney are here to give you exactly what you want.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Sidney Sweeney and Glen Powell have sizzling chemistry in this fast, frisky romantic comedy.

THE BAD - Doesn't stray from formula even slightly, lapses in logic and all, and doesn't go far enough with its R rating.

THE OSCARS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 6/10

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Dan Bayer
Dan Bayer
Performer since birth, tap dancer since the age of 10. Life-long book, film and theatre lover.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Sidney Sweeney and Glen Powell have sizzling chemistry in this fast, frisky romantic comedy.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>Doesn't stray from formula even slightly, lapses in logic and all, and doesn't go far enough with its R rating.<br><br> <b>THE OSCARS - </b>None <br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>6/10<br><br>"ANYONE BUT YOU"