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Anyone But You review: a rom-com with good laughs

Not everything works but lots does in this old-fashioned, make-em-laugh but they kiss at the end comedy.

As genres go, romantic comedy is a broad church. Around the turn of the century, it usually meant a comedy with a bit of romance mixed in. These days, it’s much more about the romance. Comedy now means ‘light-hearted’ rather than ‘we’re trying to make you laugh’.

Only it seems nobody gave Anyone But You director Will Gluck (Peter Rabbit) the heads up, because for much of its run time this is an old-fashioned, make-em-laugh but they kiss at the end, rom-com. Then again, as one of the film’s creators is William Shakespeare – the plot (along with a few lines) is lifted from Much Ado About Nothing – it’s probably a little late to give notes.

When Bea (Sydney Sweeney) meets Ben (Glen Powell) it’s love at first sight. But after a magical night together, they screw it up: the next morning she panics and flees his apartment, then when she realises she’s made a mistake she sneaks back, only to hear the wounded Ben lie to his best friend Pete (GaTa) that she was a disaster.

Six months later they meet again, only now love has curdled to hate. Which is a problem, because Pete’s sister Claudia (Alexandra Shipp) is marrying Bea’s sister Halle (Hadley Robinson) and both Ben and Bea are part of the wedding party.

Read: Anyone But You cinematographer Danny Ruhlmann: ‘The wedding scene is paramount’

It gets worse (for them) when they discover the wedding is taking place in Sydney at the extremely fancy harbourside home of Pete and Claudia’s parents (Bryan Brown and Michelle Hurd), while Bea and Halle’s parents (Rachel Griffiths and Dermot Mulroney) will also be there.

So the wedding’s a big deal, and despite the stunning locations (the beaches, the harbour, the Opera House – this has it all) the bad vibes between Bea and Ben are bringing everyone down. All the locals decide the only solution is to get the unhappy couple together so all their negative energy has somewhere to go.

Not being complete idiots, Ben and Bea quickly catch on, but when her parents (not part of the plan) bring out her ex (Darren Barnet) in the hope that he’ll get back with the unimpressed Bea, she decides a fake boyfriend is the solution to all her problems. And with one of Ben’s exes also on the scene, he’s on board as well. What could possibly go wrong?

Patchy

Even for a genre known to be pretty uneven – even the best rom-coms have flat patches between the classic scenes – Anyone But You is all over the shop. Some of the best moments are when it goes all in on trying to be funny, and some of the romantic moments land well. But there are also a lot of scenes that just don’t come off.

Part of the problem is that the film doesn’t seem quite sure what tone it’s going for. The comedy works best when things are heightened, but there’s a difference between pushing things for a laugh and breaking the mood. There’s an extended ‘I’ve got a spider on me so I’ve taken off all my clothes and thrown them away and now I’m naked in the middle of the bush’ bit that gets laughs, but it doesn’t really fit with much of the rest of the film.

For long stretches of the story Bea and Ben are positioned more as partners in crime than secret lovers, which turns out to be one of the film’s strengths. Sweeney and Powell are a likable and rarely fully clothed couple, but there’s no steamy chemistry there, and the many, many plot twists (blame Shakespeare for that) don’t give them a lot of space to build any real feelings.

They’re also largely blank slates when it comes to character. She doesn’t know what she wants in life; he doesn’t seem to have a care in the world. While this is common with rom-coms – all the better for the audience to project onto the leads – it undercuts the comedy.

We just don’t know if they’re lovable ditzes, or freaking out under peer pressure, or barely holding back supressed feelings, or what. Without being grounded in their characters, the moments of broad comedy feel random rather than something that develops naturally.

That said, given the choice between a blandly competent romance that gets the job done by mechanically ticking all the boxes, and a messy, uneven, sometimes frustrating comedy that still gives you a few good laughs, rom-coms have taught us to go for the latter.

Plus there’s a pretty good joke in there about how foreigners see Australian coffee as basically meth.

Anyone But You is in cinemas Boxing Day.

Anthony Morris is a freelance film and television writer. He’s been a regular contributor to The Big Issue, Empire Magazine, Junkee, Broadsheet, The Wheeler Centre and Forte Magazine, where he’s currently the film editor. Other publications he’s contributed to include Vice, The Vine, Kill Your Darlings (where he was their online film columnist), The Lifted Brow, Urban Walkabout and Spook Magazine. He’s the co-author of hit romantic comedy novel The Hot Guy, and he’s also written some short stories he’d rather you didn’t mention. You can follow him on Twitter @morrbeat and read some of his reviews on the blog It’s Better in the Dark.