Early 2020s mainstream cinema may be continually dire, but even a fanatic like me is still willing to recognize patterns within. You can certainly place the new Christmas-released, R-rated trifle Anyone But You as part of the Ticket to Paradise / Marry Me theatrical-romcom wave: one that runs counter to the genre having been dominated by streamers Netflix and Amazon Prime in recent years. The belief being that people will just gradually have to return to the low-stakes genre in a theatrical setting, if only through pure nostalgia or apathy towards tentpoles. 

This release from Sony––the only major distributor without a streaming service––differs its entry into the wave through a key factor. Whereas those aforementioned two films relied on middle-aged actors who cut their teeth on mid-range films to ease older people back to the genre they once loved, this is a platform for two rising stars: Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell, starring respectively as the fated couple Bea and Ben. 

Him the uncaring fuckboy, her the young law-school dropout going through an identity crisis, the chemistry following their meet-cute is soon dashed when she overhears him badmouthing her to a friend (of course because he’s really just afraid of his own feelings). Yet, a destination wedding involving mutual friends and family takes them to the lovely setting of Sydney, Australia (though shot anonymously enough it could’ve been any number of places subbing in). Each is confronted by exes on the trip and from the ensuing pressures to maintain a facade of success or happiness (hot people are insecure too), they impulsively fake a relationship that ensues in hijinks like, uh, him having to fake grope her and whatnot.

The film emphasizes the two hardbodies at its core, yet there’s something a little off about both of them. Powell is a little too pinched and not fully likable per se: the charismatic shit-heel from Everybody Wants Some!! and Top Gun: Maverick ultimately feels better suited, in romcom terms, for the role of the jerk fiancé who gets left at the altar. Sweeney, too vocal-fryish and not quite energetic enough to sell the comedy, is––based on her teary Euphoria performance––probably better-suited for a Lars von Trier lead than this.

Whatever misgivings I have with the performers, they’re first and foremost failed by this material. The film is billed as an “edgy” R-rated comedy, which I knew it wasn’t going to live up to the promise of when the first big comic set-piece was Sweeney trying to dry her wet jeans in a Starbucks bathroom. As well, despite a brief sex scene to heat up the proceedings––and, I suppose, counter obnoxious Twitter badgering about movies not being horny anymore or whatever––Anyone But You‘s overall tameness means it won’t be edited too heavily for airplane viewing. The occasional f-bomb doesn’t hide its lame-o Hallmark movie trappings. 

If anything, Anyone But You‘s spirit is encapsulated in having a running joke about “Unwritten” by Natasha Bedingfield (gags involving that artist’s back catalog seeming to be the Will Gluck auteurist touch) as if the movie’s wholly bland pop soundtrack puts it above that at-least-memorable 2000s ditty. Slight self-awareness with no effort to actually do anything new is the definition of unearned arrogance. This is why it fails as a romcom: too much smarm and not enough charm. 

Anyone But You opens in theaters on December 22.

Grade: C

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