Two beautiful stars supported by a cast of talented actors, an exotic location, and a love story — it sounds like a formula for box office gold and Anyone But You (2024) has in fact made over $151 million; but only after being panned by critics and making disappointing numbers in its opening weekend.
Pitched as a modern adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing (possibly in an effort to make the film seem smarter than it actually is), Anyone But You is technically not a romantic comedy. For that, it would have to be funny and there are precious few jokes that land in Anyone But You. While the film does eventually devolve into an awkward ad campaign for Australian tourism and Sydney Harbour Patrol, it begins promisingly.
In a delightful meet-cute, Bea (Sydney Sweeney) of the bursting bladder rushes into a coffee shop, hoping to use the bathroom, only to come up against unsympathetic staff who insist the bathroom is only for paying clients. Fortunately, at the head of the long queue of customers is Ben (Glen Powell) who orders a drink for Bea and secures the key to the bathroom for her. Keep your heroes who can go up against monsters, we’ll take the guy who understands the urgency of needing to pee.
The one scene in which Sweeney shines is early on in Anyone But You, when Bea, her jeans, the sink, and the hand dryer in the bathroom have a moment. For the rest of the film, Sweeney looks stunning but is entirely inadequate. She plays a character who should feel relatable to many, but Sweeney struggles to make Bea come alive and Bea seems more interesting on paper than on screen. On the face of it, Bea’s life looks perfect. Everyone knows her as brilliant and set for success, but secretly, Bea feels unsure about what she wants to do with her life. It doesn’t help that she’s the oldest and has loving parents who pin high expectations on Bea and meddle wherever they can — to the extent of flying her ex-boyfriend down to Australia for the destination wedding that Bea and her parents are attending. In these circumstances, the most obvious solution is to pretend Ben (also a guest at the wedding) is her boyfriend. Naturally.
It’s tempting to imagine how much better Anyone But You would have been if director and co-writer Will Gluck had got an actor like Ritu Arya, Ayo Edebiri or Lana Condor to play Bea because in addition to the actresses’ comedic skills, this would mean Bea has Asian- or African-origin parents. These communities are legendary for producing parental figures who are well-meaning, demanding and interfering, which neatly matches the narrative arc of Anyone But You. Unfortunately, with Sweeney in the lead, almost everything about Bea lacks credibility and feels convenient, rather than coherent.
Fortunately, there’s Glen Powell, who proved his chops as a rom-com hero in Set It Up (available on Netflix) and saves the day in Anyone But You. The film’s mediocre script fails to make use of the talent in its cast, which includes Rachel Griffiths, Dermot Mulroney, Darren Barnet and Bryan Brown, but Powell muscles in some much-needed charm to the plodding plot. In many ways, Ben, with his steady job and neat apartment, is conventional to the point of being boring. However, Powell makes sure we see the marshmallow heart under those chiselled pecs.
Insecure about being on the wrong side of 30, nursing old grief and smarting from having been dumped, Ben is also the one striking the Titanic pose with Bea and making late-night grilled cheese sandwiches for her. Not only is he a joy to behold (with and without his clothes), Powell as Ben adds to the rich tradition of romances in which a male character goes from protagonist to hero because of how he appreciates the heroine just the way she is (with apologies to Bridget Jones’s Darcy).
The best part of Anyone But You is that it doesn’t push Bea to have any epiphanies or conform to ideals of success. At the end of the film, Bea is just as confused as she was at the start, but this doesn’t mean she can’t have her happy ending. “I love how you know what you don’t want,” Ben tells her, making it clear that he’s ready to be her anchor as she navigates the chaos that is the rest of her life. Bea doesn’t have to become a better person or change in order to become worthy of love. Rather, Anyone But You holds out the comfort that it’s ok to flounder and feel lost. At least in the world of the imagination, happiness — and Glen Powell — will still find you.