Review: Stunning Locations and Beautiful People Aside, Anyone But You Is a Rom-Com Without Much of Either

The characters in the new romantic-comedy Anyone But You spend a great deal of time walking away from each other when their feelings get hurt rather than sticking around and talking things out. Of course, if they simply solved their issues using actual communication, there wouldn’t be a movie, but then at least something about this inane story would feel real and its characters' behaviors would feel remotely human. 

Directed by Will Gluck (Easy A, Friends with Benefits, Annie, and the Peter Rabbit movies), the film opens promisingly enough with Bea (Sydney Sweeney) and Ben (Glen Powell) meeting in a coffee shop in the cutest way possible and having an impromptu amazing first date that involves walking around, talking, and falling asleep with all of their clothes on. But when Bea slips out and leaves early in the morning, Ben is hurt and immediately bad mouths her to his best friend Pete (GaTa), just as Bea steps back into his apartment realizing her mistake. She overhears the conversation and bolts once again before being seen. In fact, a great deal of Anyone But You involves overheard conversations and staging pretend conversations designed to be overheard to inspire certain reactions, and if I told you that the reason for that is that the film is a loose retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, you’d probably slap me, and you’d be right to do so. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s also true (consider that the main characters of the play are named Benedick and Beatrice, and then allow the dread to overtake you).

And much like Shakespeare, the coincidences don’t stop there. It turns out that Pete’s sister, Claudia (Alexandra Shipp), is dating Bea’s sister, Halle (Hadley Robinson), so not only are Bea and Ben fated to meet again but they will do so frequently at group events and they will never stop letting the other one know how much they despise each other, when in fact they are still into each other. Time passes, and Claudia and Halle decide to have a destination wedding in Sydney, Australia, that forces these mortal enemies to occupy the same space for several days, beginning with an hours-long plane ride.

At this point in the story, I was still holding out hope that director Gluck would turn things around, considering that his greatest critical success was Easy A, a modern retelling of The Scarlet Letter that launched Emma Stone's career. Alas, Anyone But You is no Easy A. Once we arrive in Sydney, we’re introduced to everyone’s parents: Dermot Mulroney and Rachel Griffiths play Bea and Halle’s folks, who are constantly pressuring Bea to update them on her law school progress (she’s a law student who is unsure about wanting to be a lawyer and has dropped out of law school without telling them—again, no communication) and get back together with her ex-boyfriend Jonathan (Darren Barnet), whom they coincidentally have invited to the wedding. And then there are the far more laid back Roger (Bryan Brown) and Carol (Michelle Hurd), Claudia and Pete’s parents, who have invited family friend Margaret (Charlee Fraser), who had a fling with Ben years earlier but is now dating surfer dude Beau (Joe Davidson), even though Ben wants her back.

In a stroke of pure genius, Ben and Bea decide to call a truce and pretend they’re a relatively new couple to get what they both want—her to get her parents off her back about Jonathan and him to make Margaret jealous and want him back. What could go wrong? Considering the two still kind of like each other, they don’t have any issue pretending to be attracted to each other, and the entire film devolves into a slapstick bit of nonsense involving giant spiders, falling off a boat in the middle of Sydney Harbor, and almost ruining the wedding they’re there to attend. Once the scheme is concocted, the film turns to unbelievable mush, and even when the pair do realize their true feelings, it doesn’t feel honest or real because they’re spent so much time being so shitty to each other.

Considering that Bea is a would-be lawyer and Ben is a finance guy of some sort, Anyone But You is yet another case of supposedly smart people acting dumb and barely being able to put a truthful sentence together about their feelings, to each other or anyone else. The film somehow manages to be both underwritten and overwritten, with characters choosing to concoct misleading schemes rather than explore actual emotions with their friends or loved ones. Yes, some people on this earth are bad at communication, but no one is this bad at it for so long. For as much as I was blown away by Sweeney’s performance earlier this year in Reality, I’m not sure she has much to offer as a comic force. She spends much of the film getting dolled up for one wedding-related event after another (something she is very good at) and then getting messed up again during some mishap. I’ve seen Powell in far more movies, and he’s barely trying here, almost seeming frustrated at what he’s being given to do. Ben is charming, handsome, smarmy, and perfectly happy to be labeled a fuck-boy, and that’s about all you need to know about the depths of this character.

Everyone else in the film is overplaying their roles, trying to make something about it funny, so there isn’t much in the way of support from this supporting cast. The locations are stunning, but outside of that, you’ll likely struggle to find any value, humor, romance or humanity in Anyone But You. I feel like even those among us prone to liking most rom-coms will find their limits tested; my heart goes out to them.

This film is now playing in theaters.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.