'Anyone but You' Is Anything but Convincing

Directed by Will Gluck

Starring Sydney Sweeney, Glen Powell, Dermot Mulroney, Alexandra Shipp, Hadley Robinson, GaTa

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures

BY Alisha MughalPublished Dec 22, 2023

There's something hollow about Anyone but You. In the now-well-known introduction to the film's trailer, costars Glen Powell and Sydney Sweeney have a cutesy little argument about who the star of the film is. It's a riff on the antagonistic dynamic their characters share within the film, and it's stiff — Sweeney and Powell scan as though they are merely reading lines, following the bit's script in an uninspired manner. Sweeney, with her sleepy and perfunctory delivery, fails to hit any convincing note, seeming as though she's a begrudging participant in a school play, and Powell hits a single flat note, all grating smiles and clipped pronunciation à la Ryan Reynolds.

This is perhaps too in-depth an analysis for a 16-second-long clip — but the clip contains a perfect crystallization of both Powell's and Sweeney's performances in the rom-com itself. Truthfully, Anyone but You belongs to both of them, as well as the rest of the ensemble cast, in an equally uninspired measure — nobody steals the show, nobody delivers a noteworthy performance, and everyone seems to put in a mediocre effort to the extent that they complete the project of the film. The film is, in the most technical terms, a finished, extant piece of entertainment.

Though passable in the sense that it is watchable and contains a couple of humorous gags, the film is ultimately sterile and soulless, sapped of any vigour by the incapable — perhaps miscast — actors the film centres as its romantic leads.

Written by Ilana Wolpert and Will Gluck, and directed by Gluck, Anyone but You takes Shakespearean turns as it follows Sweeney's Bea and Powell's Ben on a very good, hours-long first date, although they swiftly sour on each other. Bea, overwhelmed by the sweetness of their encounter, leaves Ben's place the morning after, abruptly and without an explanation. Realizing her mistake, she walks back to Ben, who is obviously confused as to why Bea left, only to overhear him telling his best friend Pete (GaTa) that the date was meaningless in an attempt to glaze over his hurt feelings. They meet again many months later in Australia, where Bea's sister is set to marry Pete's sister. For the sake of the bride's happiness, the two pretend to get along.

Classic rom-com hijinks ensue but with a slightly modern twist: Wolpert and Gluck turn the early-aughts trope of the "overworked rom-com female lead who has no time for love" on its head by presenting Bea as a young woman who doesn't know what she wants out of her professional life. But Powell's Ben is fairly typical rom-com fare: a Matthew McConaughey-esque, himbo-coded and muscled fuckboy who makes a lot of money working a job vaguely delineated as "stocks."

Anyone but You, despite its beachy setting, lacks warmth. Sweeney and Powell deliver unexciting performances and fail to conjure up any chemistry between their characters, whose love story neglects to take command of the narrative in the way it ought to, meaning that it carries no heft, leaving the film dull and unmemorable.

This is not to say the film is completely terrible. Wolpert and Gluck's story is well intentioned, and it contains a few sweet moments and stunts that will leave the viewer smiling, not to mention an adorable and expertly-trained Australian Shepherd who rushes through the film stealing hearts. This dog, however, seems to be the only one able to deliver a dynamic performance that hits more than two notes.

It's strange watching Sweeney and Powell. Each actor is capable where the other fails. Sweeney thrives in sombre scenes, weeping to moving effect, while Powell never manages to hit anything beyond an upbeat, overly-pronounced quippy note throughout the film.

Sweeney humanizes Bea, using her wide watery eyes to convey the character's uncertainty about herself and her desires, her internal conflicts and exhaustion at her family's insistence that she get her life together. But she isn't able to carry the film's comedy, for she is underwhelming in her timing, both physical and dialogical. 

Powell, meanwhile, offers nothing compelling about Ben as a person; there's no reason to love or root for him — he's all funny facial expressions and dry one-liners. Though he is skilled in his comedic performance, he fails to express anything of Ben that would hint at a complex, self-aware inner life, leaving him as a hammy shell. Both Bea and Ben seem like supporting characters in their own story, with their actors seemingly unable to properly lead a film.

Accordingly, the romance between Bea and Ben fizzles, not earning the film's conclusion — chalk it up to the lack of chemistry between the leads but also, it's simply not written well with nothing at stake. Too focused on landing Shakespearean references, the film fails to match the playwright's shrewd characterization and dramatic, human poignancy. Ben and Bea's first date should have been something meaningfully meaty and dramatized; instead much of the substance of their falling in love is a rushed, soundtracked montage. And because the texture of their union is smoothed and hurried past, we don't see exactly why Bea and Ben get along so well, and so their ensuing animosity, that is meant to energize and spur the latter two-thirds of the film, is never warranted.

Sweeney and Powell kiss in an exaggerated, open-mouthed way from the start, like fish gasping out of water. It's a kissing that's more like the way a child thinks grown-ups kiss, having learned the action from a soap opera.

Anyone but You lacks vigour and steam. It's all gesticulation toward what it thinks a rom-com is, as though it were distracting from its own lack of substance, and therefore fails as one itself. Feeling more of a colour-by-numbers approach to the genre, the film, though it says all the right words, is far removed from the sweetness and love of all our favourite romantic comedies.
(Sony Pictures)

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