Anyone But You

Anyone But You
Anyone But You
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There is something initially and strategically encouraging about the existence and positioning of Sony’s glossy romantic comedy Anyone But You. Unlike the entire deluge of similar films in this genre (reputedly resurrected, but to those who have been keeping tabs not really), it is not striving for relegation into streaming scrapheap rather than getting a bullish big screen release. It has been one year since leaked semi-nude on-set photos of Euphoria’s weepy Sydney Sweeney and Top Gun: Maverick’s bronzed Glen Powell first began circulating, with the did-they-or-didn’t-they rumors still going wild; it truly feels like most confidently and expensively produced romcom for a longtime.

The original teaser was maybe a bit confused – too much sex, not enough allure – while the following Olivia Rodrigo-tracked trailer may have been slightly broad – trashy enough to be quickly mercilessly parodied -but surely there must be more to it than that? Something that would explain why two unknowns are headlining a film from their studio in such a commercial doubtful genre?

Maybe this is due to our collective nostalgia obsession which is best evidenced by many reboots or legacy sequels that fill both large and small screens as well as more broadly speaking, a genre brought back from the dead and made over as though it were from its own era (this season’s beautifully mid-00s coded slasher Thanksgiving being only one recent example). While Anyone But You takes place in the present, it looks like something out of 20 years ago and given how stilted most current presentations of romantic comedies are, there are easy pleasures in this kind of high-end slickness. But apart from being an exercise in style, there really isn’t anything else to justify why this warranted a push; glossiness hiding everything else we look for in our romantic comedies only.

A movie Both inspired by Much Ado About Nothing and held back by it, Sweeney’s uncertain law student Bea sleeps with Powell’s confident finance bro Ben (that’s all the characterization there is!) and for reasons completely unbelievable, they become enemies. Then months later they meet when Bea finds out that her sister and Ben’s best friend from childhood are now dating and the two go to Australia for their wedding with only weak jokes enroute (the film is consistently, maddeningly unfunny). And so through even flimsier means than ever before, they decide it would be wise to act as a couple in a romantic comedy format, leading to laughter in theory.

As the film itself is, so too are the central characters appealing aesthetically but historically, they have been more like class clown and girl next door rather than jock and prom queen in romcom leads. Meg Ryan, Billy Crystal, Hugh Grant, Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock were all conventionally attractive but never as overtly sexual or perpetually nude as these two are here; their appeal was rooted in likability rather than fuckability. Sweeney and Powell are glistening with toned bodies in pre-release stills and on the poster itself that make them lack relatability. These failures – Sweeney eating a hot grilled cheese sandwich (!), Powell listening to Natasha Bedingfield to calm his nerves (!) – is not a problem by itself since this genre isn’t known for its gritty realism – however there must be something more profound about willing it into existence or not.

In 2011’s unlikable Friends With Benefits Gluck also paired Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis together without effect and similarly he can’t do much beyond making his leads look good in swimwear; therefore basing a romantic comedy on them is like watching one kid force two dolls to kiss reluctantly. An uncomfortable Sweeney who was so remarkable earlier this year in Reality has an odd flatness here that hampers what should be zippy material while Powell is more competent but never rises above soap competent through which a tense square jaw relied upon for dramatic effect. The two don’t convincingly hate let alone mildly dislike each other; there’s no bite there it’s more like watching a happily married couple playfully ragging on each other for an audience then we’re never given enough of a reason why they wouldn’t be together from the start. Some of the most interesting romantic comedies need characters that are full, when-you-think-about-it weirdos to work their magic – Only You, Addicted to Love, You’ve Got Mail, My Best Friend’s Wedding, While You Were Sleeping – but these two remain boringly normal, more the kind to refer to the other as “this weirdo” on Instagram than do anything genuinely strange.

There is also a nostalgic hint of Shakespeare in films like Clueless, Get Over It and 10 Things I Hate About You but it seems that far too many hurdles are put up by writer Ilana Wolpert for an age-old farce turned into distractingly convoluted slapstick-heavy corners with quotes clumsily crowbarred in throughout. The vague meta attempts to comment on just how convoluted it gets aren’t enough to fix the problem; rather they seem to confess that this was not a good idea after all.

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