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Cry no more, as Anyone But You saves the rom-com

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Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures
Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures


After a successful meet-cute in a coffee shop, law school student Bea (Sydney Sweeney) and Wall Street finance wiz Ben (Glen Powell) spend an entire day and night chastely getting to know one another. After waking up in his arms the following morning, Bea initially thinks it's best to sneak away into the sunshine without leaving a note. When she comes to her senses and heads back to Ben's front door, she overhears him chatting with his best friend Pete (GaTa), saying the most abhorrent things imaginable about her, not realizing he's only doing this because his heart has been unexpectedly broken.

That's the prologue to Anyone But You, the new romantic comedy from Easy A and Friends with Benefits director Will Gluck. The crux of the tale he's concocted with co-writer Ilana Wolpert takes place almost entirely in Sydney, Australia, with Bea and Ben reuniting at the destination wedding of her sister Halle (Hadley Robinson) to Pete's sibling Claudia (Alexandra Shipp). Dermot Mulroney and Rachel Griffiths are on hand as Bea and Halle's parents, while Bryan Brown and Michelle Hurd are Pete and Claudia's.

For a flurry of convoluted reasons not worth going into, the idea is that Ben and Bea will pretend to have laid their mutual animosity to rest and feign that they are in a romantic relationship. Shakespearean silliness transpires right after that, only instead of iambic pentameter, their witticisms are more of the four-letter variety and sprinkled with some deceptively chaste nudity and a moderate amount of sexual innuendo. It's Much Ado About Nothing through a modern lens, and because of this, the film is far more entertaining than it has any right to be.

Gluck does crib from himself a bit too often. There are moments (including the same musical artist) that are liberally borrowed from Easy A. There are some bro-tastic interactions between Powell and GaTa (especially early on) that reminded me a little of similar bits from Fired Up!. The relaxed, foul-mouthed banter of the two leads is similar in tone, style, and cadence to what Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis spat with rapid-fire elasticity in Friends with Benefits.

Yet this isn't a giant problem. Sweeney and Powell are sublime together, and the heat they generate throughout is frequently enough to melt the screen. I loved the spontaneity of Bea and Ben's first encounter, and while it's difficult to believe the animosity from their mutual misreading of the situation the next morning would have lasted as long as the film tries to convince us it has, somehow, they make it work.

Powell, so magnetic in key supporting roles in both Top Gun: Maverick and Devotion just last year, makes the leap to above-the-title leading man with aplomb. He swaggers through this story with a cocksure nonchalance that's intoxicating. Yet, he's never annoying. Instead, he allows Ben to show pieces of himself bit by bit, often in ways that caught me by surprise. Powell makes it all look easy.

Sweeney's made a name for herself primarily with a trio of dynamic projects for HBO: the first season of The White Lotus, the buzzy Euphoria, and the outstanding docudrama Reality (about Reality Winner). She's one of the executive producers here, and it's doubtful the actor could have given herself a better starring vehicle. Sweeney pours every ounce of herself into her performance, giving Bea an emotional depth that makes her journey all the more universal. Viewers of pretty much every age from teenager on up will likely see themselves in the young woman, whose life choices are exceedingly easy to relate to.

With a supporting cast as frankly as incredible as this, I'd like to say that giants like Brown, Griffiths, Mulroney, and Hurd had more to do. But they're not given a lot to work with, and while they do make the most of their moments (Brown and Hurd especially are so effortlessly magical together that I found myself wondering what a romantic drama focused entirely on their characters would have been like), I still felt like they were sadly wasted. Robinson and Shipp fare a little better, mainly thanks to a pair of sublime scenes bookending the last act that brought a giant smile to my face.

Even with its Shakespearean parentage, there's nothing altogether original here. But this is Sweeney and Powell's show, and how much enjoyment a viewer gets out of watching the finished film will be based entirely on how much they like watching the two banter before they inevitably end up entwined in one another's arms.

For them, the refreshingly adult Anyone But You is much ado about something special. No need to eat a heart in the marketplace. No one involved should be considered — or even called — an ass. Ben may be a part of a deception, but he is not a deceiver (and he's certainly worth sighing over). Bea's heart is made of strong stuff, but it isn't disdain or scorn that rides sparkling in her effervescent eyes. Any thoughts of woe about either character vanish as if they never existed in the first place, so say, "hey nonny nonny" and give this delightful rom-com a holiday look.