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film review
  • Anyone But You
  • Directed by Will Gluck
  • Written by Ilana Wolpert
  • Starring Glen Powell, Sydney Sweeney and Dermot Mulroney
  • Classification 14A; 104 minutes
  • Opens in theatres Dec. 22

Every year, we come to a collective crisis about the state of the Hollywood rom-com and coronate one movie to save it. In the past few years, several worthy candidates rise and fall on their swords (see: Obvious Child, Set It Up, Palm Springs) before a new entrant enters the chat. Inevitably bummed when the critical acclaim of one rom-com doesn’t spur on a movement, we decry, “The rom-com is dead! Ugh, should we watch Ted Lasso?”

This year, steamy gossip from the set of Anyone But You stirred hopes that the rom-com could rise again. The film’s swole co-stars Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell were rumoured to have electric chemistry, and an on-set affair. A trailer, later lampooned by Emma Stone and Nathan Fiedler for their A24 series The Curse, shows Sweeney and Powell trailing their manicured fingers down each other’s abs, their eyes aglow as the two hottest, blondest people to ever live.

Director Will Gluck (Easy A, Friends with Benefits) felt like a sure bet to resuscitate the kind of breezy, high-wattage rom-com that once defined the early aughts. And like many of the great rom-coms of the 2000s, Anyone But You uses a play by William Shakespeare as its source material, appropriating the scaffolding of Much Ado About Nothing for its romantic farce about two misguided millennials who fake a relationship to get friends and family off their backs during a stressful destination wedding in Australia.

Sweeney plays Bea, a law school dropout who just ended her engagement to a guy her helicopter parents are obsessed with. A few years before that, she had a life-changing one-night stand with Ben (Powell), a stock trader who takes pride in his gets-around reputation. An emotional contrivance that could be easily worked out in one conversation naturally kept these two bozos apart until Bea’s sister and Ben’s best friend fall in love and get engaged. Pressed to keep the peace for the sake of the wedding, Bea and Ben “pretend” to fall in love so Ben can make his Aussie ex jealous and Bea can pacify her parents.

Many comic set-pieces – a tarantula that lands in Ben’s bathing trunks forcing him to rip off all his clothes, a wedding cake that gets crushed by a dog named Klonopin, the lovers falling off a boat into the Sydney harbour after re-enacting a scene from Titanic – ensue until the pair can admit that they love each other. (It’s not a spoiler if it’s canon.) There’s a zaniness to this film that feels refreshing, a going-for-broke energy reminiscent of an Adam Sandler movie at its peak.

Still, Anyone But You deserves to be graded on a curve. It is an excellent plane movie: made for the sky where the high altitude kills brain cells. Compared to the glut of Christmas rom-coms populating Netflix, it’s a masterpiece. Sweeney and Powell, engineered in a lab for their golden retriever hotness, have real chemistry and their own eccentric weirdness as performers. There are actual guffaws with a supporting cast that hold its own (including Dermot Mulroney and Rachel Griffiths as Bea’s parents). The romantic backdrop of Australia allows the actors to basically wear bathing suits for the entire movie, which is probably why it was made in the first place.

Still, Gluck, who normally knows how to make these movies feel cinematic, films his stars like they’re in an elevated episode of Love Is Blind, complete with the same bland music supervision and travelogue cinematography. The pacing drops off after the initial meet cute, treading water for at least 45 minutes until the machinations of the sham relationship come into play. The film tries hard to update Shakespeare’s marriage plot for 2023 with an interracial queer couple and a Black family, but these characters only exist in function to the plot.

In her first leading rom-com role, Sweeney holds her own, filling out the layers of an underwritten character. The actor must make a character who seems rash, rude and indecisive into a loveable heroine to root for. Sweeney is a fantastic, brilliant actor who is often cursed by her own sexuality. She deserves more roles where you can feel the director isn’t always asking her to act breasts first.

While Anyone But You isn’t going to save the modern rom-com, Powell just might. The actor is an outstanding romantic lead – he’s got the soul of Billy Crystal in the body of Tom Cruise. A quick cut of him lying awake at night after Sweeney sleepily wonders if she’s made another mistake is an acting tour de force. Between this and Richard Linklater’s forthcoming comedy Hit Man, Powell makes an excellent case for why watching hot people fall in love is the great American pastime.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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