Much Ado About Nothing is one of Shakespeare’s most popular rom-coms about two people who can’t stand each other being tricked into seeing one another with new eyes so that they fall in love, thus relieving their friends and families of their constant bickering.
Anyone But You is a film that claims to be built on Shakespeare’s bones (by screenwriters Ilana Wolpert and Will Gluck) but takes a turn when modern-day bickerers Ben (Glen Powell) and Bea (Sydney Sweeney) suss out their friends’ idiot plan to make them fall in love and decide to go along with it for reasons. Anyone But You incorporates a lot of Shakespearian quotes, but it is a bad adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing— the equal of 10 Things I Hate About You it is not, and no more on this subject shall I say.
Ben and Bea meet cute in a coffee shop, have one of those all-day dates they do in the movies, and then spend a night cuddling before having a morning-after misunderstanding that leads to mutual hatred. One issue for Anyone But You off the top is that it is not clear how much time lapses across these initial events—it feels like Ben and Bea’s falling out and their trip to Sydney, Australia for a wedding happens in the same week. It is only at the end of the film that we learn it has been two entire years in between. The way information is parceled out in this film is really weird, so many important details only come to light in the last twenty minutes, it’s almost like there’s a whole other movie that spins out of just the wedding weekend, no lead-up necessary, and that other movie is the one with all the important context.
But the biggest issue for Anyone But You is how bland it is. Billed as a return to the sexy rom-com, Anyone But You is chemistry-free, rendering it unsexy and almost sexless—most of the R rating is given to curse words and mild nudity, with one mid-movie sex scene that only reminds you how lackluster the chemistry is between Powell and Sweeney. It’s a tragedy, really, because individually they are good actors, but together they have the onscreen charisma of an old mop and bucket. Like, it’s wet, but do you want it to be?
Powell can lean on old-school movie star charm to get him through, he can twinkle when needed and be a gruff curmudgeon when called for, but Sweeney is just plain miscast as a rudderless twenty-something searching for her life’s direction. Bea should be convincing in her swings between the peppy good-girl she shows the world and the bitter betty only Ben sees, but Sweeney plays Bea always on one level. She fares well enough in scenes with her overbearing parents (played with daffy good cheer by Dermot Mulroney and Rachel Griffiths), but when called on to play-act romance with Ben, it boggles the mind anyone falls for the bit. Sweeney is unconvincing as a romantic comedienne, and her absolutely passionless chemistry with Powell doesn’t help.
Director Will Gluck, who also co-wrote the screenplay, gets a lot of credit for directing the standout teen sex comedy Easy A, but we should talk more about how he also directed the execrable Friends With Benefits, which is more relevant here. If anything, Anyone But You just makes you appreciate Emma Stone all the more—it’s impossible not to think about everything she could do with Bea, and how she can generate chemistry with any co-star. Anyone But You hits all the right rom-com beats, it just needs a central couple with that kind of sparkling cinematic chemistry to carry it through the cliches.
It really feels like Anyone But You missed the boat by committing to the Shakespeare bit, because the enemies-to-lovers plot falls flat, given the lacking chemistry and the fact that we’re not even sure how long the “enemies” bit has been going until it’s too late. A late-stage development about Ben panicking over Bea’s indecisiveness actually hints a better narrative path, one in which Anyone But You isn’t a bad Shakespeare riff but goes more in the direction of My Best Friend’s Wedding—and not just because Dermot Mulroney is here!—and tells a “wrong person/right time” story in which Ben and Bea are just two people going through different transitional moments in their lives over the course of a destination wedding weekend, and have a ships-in-the-night romance as a result. It doesn’t have to be “the one” love! It can just be a fun fling, and that is sexy! This film is DYING for literally ONE thing to be sexy!
But Anyone But You is stubbornly resistant to good ideas and remains committed to being a very thin Shakespeare knock-off. It could skate on the Bard’s enduring appeal if there was any combination of good humor, chemistry, or sexiness to be found, but all three are sadly lacking. It’s an exercise in box-ticking, working through the rom-com checklist with rote determination and little else (it is, however, a very effective travelogue for Australia). I would love to know how the filmmakers define “sexy rom-com”, because I feel like everyone would give wildly different yet entirely incorrect answers. All it takes is a little actual spice to perk up a film like this, but Anyone But You is the potato salad with raisins of rom-coms.
Anyone But You is now playing exclusively in theaters.