Hot People Need to Be in Better Rom-Coms Than ‘Anyone But You’
There are myriad reasons why people see movies. They want to escape reality for two hours. They like watching shit blow up. But an underrated motivating factor is that it puts us in contact with hot people, who we get to stare at on a huge screen. And depending on the movie, sometimes they fall in love, which makes sense — hot people are meant to be with other hot people. (The exception is when the movie stars the writer-director, who is a normal schlub with the power to cast a hot person to play his romantic interest.) We live vicariously through these hot people — we can’t be them, but it’s fun to watch them do their hot things with one another.
There are a few hot-people love stories out right now, including the moving drama All of Us Strangers, but Anyone But You is a special case because it seems to have been designed in a lab to appeal specifically to audiences who just want to see sexy people cavort. I don’t care what your sexuality is, you have no excuse not to think that both Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell are extremely hot individuals — a fact that’s made clear by the film’s poster, which features them both wearing basically nothing. This R-rated romantic comedy makes us a promise: These beautiful people are going to flirt and, eventually, hook up. That ought to be enough. Unfortunately, Anyone But You is pretty dumb. Hot people owe it to us to be in better movies than this.
Director and co-writer Will Gluck, whose Easy A was a modern-day riff on The Scarlet Letter, now turns his attention to Shakespeare. If a few none-too-subtle references to the Bard’s words throughout the movie weren’t obvious, Anyone But You is a kinda, sorta redo of Much Ado About Nothing, a comedy about two people who don’t get along but eventually realize they’re in love. This, of course, is a done-to-death trope in rom-coms, and Anyone But You has a doozy of a meet-cute. Bea (Sweeney) is struggling through law school — she’s not sure she wants to be a lawyer anymore — when she bumps into Ben (Powell), a slightly older finance bro. After some initial wackiness — whoopsie, she spills water onto the crotch of her jeans while she’s in the bathroom! — they end up chatting as they walk around Boston and fall for one another.
Bea and Ben spend the night together at Ben’s place — they don’t have sex, falling asleep in each other’s arms — and the next morning, Bea walks out, so excited that she’s met a great guy. But then she realizes, wait a sec, maybe she should have said goodbye before she left — only to walk back and overhear Ben tell a buddy that he’s so glad she finally left. Her feelings hurt, she silently slinks away — only to run into him months later when it turns out her sister (Hadley Robinson) is planning to marry Ben’s good buddy (Alexandra Shipp). Well, that’s awkward, especially considering that Bea and Ben will have to spend a lot of time around each other at the destination wedding in Sydney, Australia.
That’s already too much plot, but I haven’t even gotten to Anyone But You’s central idea, which is that, for very convoluted reasons, Bea and Ben realize that it’s mutually advantageous to pretend they’re a couple, even though they despise one another. You can imagine what happens from there: They put on a big show of acting all lovey-dovey to get the desired reaction out of certain people — his ex, whom he wants back; her ex, whom she doesn’t want back — while other people at the wedding try to orchestrate their actual love connection through trickery. It’s as exhausting to type that as it is to watch it unfold.
When I refer to Sweeney and Powell as being hot, I don’t mean that derisively. I’m not suggesting that they’re gorgeous but stupid — hot but inert. She was superb in The White Lotus and Reality, and he was great in Everybody Wants Some!! They play relatively smart characters in Anyone But You — I say “relatively” because this is the sort of so-so rom-com that forces Bea and Ben to be stupid when it helps the plot. For instance, if they simply talked through what had happened that first morning together — it was a big misunderstanding, with both of them trying to protect themselves from getting hurt — the whole movie would have been resolved in, like, 10 minutes. But rom-coms often require bright individuals to turn into morons, hot or not.
But, c’mon, do things like plausibility really matter when all you really care about is gawking at hotties? Probably not, which is why I imagine the target audience is going to eat up Anyone But You. It’s hard to think of two bigger internet crushes at the moment than Sweeney and Powell, fans’ interest in this rom-com only amplifying when rumors started swirling that the stars were cheating on their partners by hooking up during production. Those rumors have been denied, but not unlike nearly 20 years ago when certified hot people Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie became an item while filming Mr. & Mrs. Smith, part of Anyone But You’s potential appeal is that the onscreen bantering and squabbling is secretly foreshadowing all the shtupping that was supposedly going on off-camera.
Which is why, while I think both stars are ridiculously beautiful, often wearing not much, Anyone But You stinks. If you’re going to cast two magnificent specimens such as this, you really ought to make them fun to be around. Much of the film involves Bea and Ben insulting one another, their jabs seldom cutting. Give Gluck credit for being equal-opportunity by leering at both their bodies — Sweeney’s cleavage is frequently on display, Powell is naked except for his package at one point — but their chemistry is barely evident. Classic rom-coms such as It Happened One Night generated sparks from the sexual friction between gorgeous heterosexuals who didn’t get along, but in garbage like Anyone But You, they just bicker pointlessly. It’s not a turn-on — it’s a form of cinematic malpractice to force talented hot people to be this unfunny and strained.
You can tell just how strained it is, in fact, once Bea and Ben inevitably start to let down their guard and catch feelings. Near the end of the film, way too late, they warm to one another, and the actors’ natural charisma finally comes out. And because this is that rare rom-com that’s R-rated, you even get a legitimately sexy sex scene. Where was this rapport throughout the rest of Anyone But You? Why did the filmmaker deny us our pleasures?
So clichéd is Anyone But You’s setup that The Curse’s Nathan Fielder and Emma Stone recently mocked the movie’s “Get a room, you two” trailer, exposing how canned Sweeney and Powell’s staged “antagonistic” banter was. Anyone But You’s hotties deserve better, and so do we, who don’t ask for much beyond requesting, every once in a while, that we get to bear witness to smokeshows exchanging witty quips while going to town on one another, proving to us slobs that perhaps romance can last.
Maybe we’ll never find a soulmate who inspires creepy thirst tweets. Maybe we’ll never make anyone gasp when we take off our shirt. But, hey, we’re not hot people — that’s not our job. The least hot people can do is distract us from the monotony of our lives for a little while. That’s why Anyone But You is so unsatisfying: Gluck promises us hotness, and then he leaves us cold.