4 Jan 2024

Review: Anyone But You

From Widescreen, 12:54 pm on 4 January 2024

Dan Slevin says that it’s the Shakespeare that works best in this modern update of Much Ado About Nothing.

Still image from the 2023 romantic comedy Anyone But You featuring Glen Powell and Sydney Sweeney.

Photo: Sony Pictures

Ask any film reviewer and they’ll tell you that some films are just ‘reviewer proof’. That’s not to say that some films are guaranteed sure-fire hits – nothing like that exists – but that there are some films that have plenty of things to be critical about, but that the general vibe is such that paying audiences just won’t care.

That’s sort of where we land with Anyone But You, written by Ilana Wolpert and Will Gluck and directed by Gluck, which is adapted from one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays and is stars some attractive young people in a very pleasant environment. Good bones in other words.

Gliuck was also responsible for the very successful high school comedy Easy A back in 2010 – also an adaptation of a well-known piece of literature, in that case The Scarlet Letter – and so has some good form in this arena. Easy A introduced most of us to Emma Stone who has gone on to much bigger but not necessarily better things.

I’m very fond of Much Ado About Nothing, having essayed the role of Don John, “the Bastard Prince”, in a Wellington Summer Shakespeare many moons ago. That was the role taken by Keanu Reeves in the 1993 Branagh film. I’m disappointed to say that there is no equivalent to Don John in Anyone But You as the new film takes as its source the Beatrice and Benedick romantic comedy subplot rather than the wars between estranged brothers. Ah well, you can’t win them all.

Still image from the 2023 romantic comedy Anyone But You featuring Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell.

Photo: Sony Pictures

Bea (Sydney Sweeney) and Ben (Glen Powell) meet-cute at a coffee shop and spend a chaste night with each other at his apartment. Embarrassed, she sneaks off in the morning only to hear him – equally embarrassed – dissing her to his best friend. And so guilt and shame become strange bedfellows for each, when the bedfellows they would rather have are each other.

Fast forward a few months and – for the benefit of the Australian tourist board and access to the Made in NSW Production Incentive – they are invited to a wedding of mutual best friends in Sydney. Much verbal jousting ensues but they soon realise – with help from some well-wishing busybodies – that they should pretend to be into each other or be paired up with even less desirable wedding guests.

Sweeney is probably best known for her role in the hit show The White Lotus but I prefer to think of her in the 2023 festival film Reality in which she played the convicted domestic American whistleblower Reality Winner, a role that showcased her dramatic potential even if it doesn’t showcase her physical attributes quite so well.

Still image from the 2023 romantic comedy Anyone But You featuring Glen Powell and Sydney Sweeney.

Photo: Sony Pictures

Powell is a sandy haired and beady eyed beefcake who also has some acting chops – he played astronaut John Glenn in the movie Hidden Figures. Between them they work hard to generate some chemistry and manage to achieve a little bit, but it’s their physiques that are doing most of the work here. It’s as if they both looked at the ticking clock and thought, I really need to immortalise this body before I get any older.

The film is actually better the more it hews to the source material. Chapter headings are quotes from the play and the feeble attempts by the couple’s friends and family (including Aussie legend Bryan Brown) to fool them into thinking they should be together are very Shakespearean and very funny.

So, while I am lukewarm on Anyone But You it isn’t quite a case of “Any Film But This”. The audience this is aimed it will have a good time. It’s racy, pacy and everyone in Sydney – including Sydney – looks adorable.

Anyone But you is rated R13 for sex scenes, sexual references & offensive language and is playing in multiplexes across New Zealand.

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