ANYONE BUT YOU

★★★

DOES THE ROM-COM NEED SAVING?

BOXING DAY REVIEW
By Liz Chan
22nd December 2023

When can we consider ourselves in a rom-comaissance (rom-com renaissance)? Despite allegations of the once-prevalent 1990-2000s genre being dead, well, I'm optimistic she's just resting her eyes. The classic rom-com seems to be making a slow but steady comeback to our screens, from the gargantuan scale of 'Crazy Rich Asians' (2018) to the intimate charm of 'Rye Lane' (2023).

So who better to make a comeback to the rom-com than director Will Gluck, best known – under my roof, at least – for the cinematic masterpiece 'Easy A' (2014)? 'Anyone But You', in theory, faithfully ticks off the classic rom-com to-do list. It stars two of the most attractive actors of the 2020s - Sydney Sweeney (TV's 'Euphoria' and 'The White Lotus') and Glen Powell ('Top Gun: Maverick', 'Set It Up'). Staying true to the rom-com genre, it's a modern adaption of a Shakespeare play ('Much Ado About Nothing'). It touts an impressive list of cheesy tropes like a live-action adaptation of a Wattpad fan-fiction, including but not limited to fake dating, enemies to lovers, destination weddings, and the meet-cute.

SWITCH: 'ANYONE BUT YOU' TRAILER 2

The story follows Bea (Sweeney) and Ben (Powell), who are unimpressed to see each other at the Sydney destination wedding of Ben's friend Claudia (Alexandria Ship) and Bea's sister Halle (Hadley Robinson). Their once-sweet first date involving excessive oversharing and cooking grilled cheese turned sour, and they've hated each other since. Now stuck in a beach house with the rest of the wedding party, they eventually resolve to fake-date so Bea can deflect her ex-fiance, who her parents invited to win her back (insanely), while Ben can win back his ex-situationship with a mind game.

While Gluck ticked off the romcom to-do list faithfully, the inherent charm felt a little missing to me. 'Anyone But You' has been subject to the internet's amusement this year - and for valid reasons that become apparent as you watch the film, by coincidence or curse. When the first trailer debuted, Gluck issued a PSA to address the internet's confusion, clarifying that the film was not a psychosexual thriller but a fluffy rom-com. Within 12 hours of the second trailer debuting, Nathan Fielder and Emma Stone had parodied Sweeney and Powell's strangely wooden chemistry. With a genre that counts on the unwritten sparks between characters to counteract corny and cringe (or worst, boring), the leads in 'Anyone But You' fall behind when the movie rattles on to tick off the rom-com to-do list.

Sweeney and Powell are likeable, but they barely have enough romantic chemistry for the story to hinge on – not that of Gosling-Stone ('Crazy, Stupid, Love'), Hudson-McConaughey ('How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days'), or even Powell in his own rom-com 'Set It Up' across from Zoey Deutch. Sweeney is a 2x Emmy nominee and I genuinely believe Powell could charm a plate of corn if he wanted to, but their pairing as a love-hate rom-com couple remains a mystery to me.

As the script's formulaic rom-com beats toe the line between delightfully cheesy to disappointedly dull, 'Anyone But You' sadly lacks the memorability or longevity of a rom-com classic.

However, the supporting cast does hold down the fort. In particular, I loved Australian model-turned-actress Charlee Fraser's performance in her first major film role as Margaret (Ben's ex-situationship). She's one to watch as a rising star in both Australian film and Hollywood, and I hope she gets a chance with a rom-com leading role soon. Alexandra Shipp ('Barbie') and Hadley Robinson ('Moxie!') as Claudia and Halle, the couple getting married, are so charming – they stage a brief fight that has more tension than the entirety of Bea and Ben's relationship – that I wish the movie was about them instead.

As the script's formulaic rom-com beats toe the line between delightfully cheesy to disappointedly dull, 'Anyone But You' sadly lacks the memorability or longevity of a rom-com classic. But who is to say Gluck can't take a shot at it anyway? I enjoyed the sprawling aerial shots of the gorgeous Sydney landscape (very much thanks to cinematographer Danny Ruhlman) and the unwavering incorporation of a 2000s song. When Powell and Sweeney hang off a helicopter with the backdrop of the Harbour Bridge singing 'Unwritten' by Natasha Bedingfield, it's hard not to smile and move your rating a tinge upwards. He also joins the few but honourable bringing back blooper credits (See: Emma Seligman's 'Bottoms'), although the credits did possess more charm than the entire film that came before it.

If you're looking for the resonant Saver of Rom-Coms or a timeless classic, you're likely to find yourself disappointed. But if you have a cinema coupon and specifically wish to turn off your brain for two hours to watch multiple hot people trapeze around Sydney, then go forth to the cinema with efficiency. I won't judge. The alternate choices are some guy swimming in the ocean or dancing in chocolate. Not exactly very sexy (unless that is your thing, I guess?). If anything, 'Anyone But You' works best as an indication that the tides are turning – the rom-com renaissance, if not imminent, has been right with us.

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