' ' Cinema Romantico: Anyone but You

Monday, May 13, 2024

Anyone but You

Given the lack of modern romantic comedies, when a semi-high-profile new one is released, it tends to be viewed either as a potential savior or a failed deliverer. Refreshingly, Will Gluck’s “Anyone but You,” released theatrically last December and now on Netflix, lands in-between. If it had been made in the 90s, it would have been a late April release, before the bigger name rom coms of May and June. Indeed, it is not especially fresh nor insightful, and most critically, fails to truly build out its own world. But it is also conveyed and performed with enough energy and enthusiasm to make you enjoy its hoary twists, if not occasionally believe them, and most crucially, swoon over its stars. It even turns the Sydney Opera House into the Eiffel Tower, in a manner of speaking, a landmark of love, which as an Eiffel-Tower-in-Movies enthusiast, warmed my heart.

Those stars are Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell, playing Bea and Ben, respectively, who Meet Cute at a coffee shop by pretending to be husband and wife under semi-convoluted circumstances and functioning as a good indicator of what’s to come. Bea accidentally getting her pants wet from the bathroom sink might be an ancient call from the Rom Com Playbook, but Sweeney sells her character air drying them with such desperately comic vigor that it works in spite of itself. Bea and Ben spend the night together, seeming to fall in love, only to have a misunderstanding turn them into sworn enemies instead. Their hostility turns troublesome when Bea’s sister Halle (Hadley Robinson) becomes engaged to Claudia (Alexandra Shipp), sister of Ben’s best friend Pete (GaTa), meaning these adversaries must try and play nice when they travel to Australia for the wedding, setting in motion all manner of romantic about-faces. 

The screenplay by Gluck and Ilana Wolpert is loosely based on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, meaning various friends and family members try to play matchmaker for Bea and Ben. Eventually, a fed-up Bea and Ben get everyone off their backs by pretending to be in love, a plot detail I appreciated, turning the fake dating trope inside-out, embodying not just how Gluck and Wolpert constantly refresh the plot to keep us engaged but the movie’s overall spirited sensation. That spirit is just as acutely captured in the editing, both moment to moment in the screwball repartee between its leads and overall, ensuring an almost two-hour movie never feels too long. Eh, at least until the requisite downturn, that is, when its lack of world-building finally catches up.

It’s strange to say but the most striking evidence of the larger world in “Anyone but You” is when Bea and Ben “do a ‘Titanic’” during a Sydney Harbour pre-wedding cruise by stepping up to the boat’s railing and spreading their arms. This is neither conveyed nor played like mere meta rom com commentary but merely two people who know this movie from pop culture and are having fun with it. Otherwise, who Bea and Ben are as people never comes across. He’s in finance, I guess, conveyed entirely via one brief cutaway to a stock chart on a computer screen, while what defines Bea is not knowing what she wants to be, which ultimately feels less like a character trait than the movie’s own lack of a better idea. All this is amplified by Halle and Claudia’s relationship never becoming the reflection of Bea and Ben’s a great script would have made it while the latter’s emergent exes (Darren Barnet and Charlee Fraser) are just beautiful-looking impediments, all of this causing a lack of genuine drama in the homestretch. I did appreciate Bryan Brown as Claudia’s father in something approximating the Antonio role of Much Ado, playing his part of romantic deception with comic relish, which underlines Sweeney and Powell as “Anyone but You’s” preeminent quality. 

The screenplay schemes ways to get them repeatedly into their skivvies, or into nothing at all, allowing us to ogle them but ogle them tastefully, an acknowledgement that more than the striking Australian scenery, this is what we paid (our subscription to Netflix) to see. That is not to sell them short as performers. Powell is better evoking his character’s air despite their being next to nothing on the page, a bro with a big heart, than Sweeney. Indeed, her turn is a little weird, which I mean, mostly, as a compliment. Because if she begins by trying to echo the character as loosely written, cheerily scatterbrained, as the script transitions them to animosity and Bea becomes less and less defined, Sweeney resorts to her innate Sweeney-ness, marked by impeccably withering vocal fry and facial expressions. If that’s a ding on Sydney Sweeney the actor, it’s a compliment to Sydney Sweeney the movie star, and I’m fine with the latter winning out. It provides Bea and Ben a necessarily balanced contrast paving the way for a legitimately enthralling push and pull. You know they’re going to end up together, but when she tempts him with her eyes during their mid-movie dance, you’ll swear, anything might just go.

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