Movie Curiosities: Anyone But You

Hmm. A paltry rom-com with no major names attached, and it got shoved out in the final days of the year. Strange that it wasn’t dumped in January or February. Though I suppose I can see the logic in counter-programming, opposite the glut of Oscar hopefuls and whatever juvenile sludge Illumination is shoveling out.

Oh, and this one is supposedly a Shakespeare riff? Okay, now you have my attention. Let’s see what we’ve got with Anyone But You.

As a refresher, “Much Ado About Nothing” is a story about Claudio and Hero, a pair of young lovers who resolve to get married almost immediately after their first meeting, though their nuptials are briefly complicated by rumors and personal drama by way of a spiteful shithead. Yet it’s Beatrice and Benedick who consistently steal the show. Those two B-plot characters are two of the most beloved roles in the entire Shakespeare canon, and they’re pretty much the only reason why anyone knows or cares about “Much Ado”.

Little wonder, considering that Beatrice and Benedick have some of Shakespeare’s wittiest rejoinders and most withering takedowns this side of “Taming of the Shrew”. (And seriously, who wants to stage “Taming of the Shrew” in 2024?) At their best, Beatrice and Benedick have scorching chemistry and a fascinating will-they-won’t-they interplay that makes for a far more compelling romantic drama than the Claudio/Hero courtship.

Which brings me to the third major point: Everyone else in the story is a dick.

With the exception of Hero — a blank slate who only exists as a trophy and barely has a line in the play — every other character in this play is a numskull, a liar, a judgmental sex-shaming asshole, or any combination of the above. And now we’re using these characters as the basis of a modern romantic comedy. Bring it on.

Exec Producer Sydney Sweeney plays Beatrice “Bea” Messina (ha ha), a young woman with second thoughts about her fiance (more on Jonathan later) and her time as a law student. The film opens with a meet-cute between her and Ben, a Wall Street analyst played by Glen Powell. The two of them have a whirlwind romance for a day, and it goes far better than either one expected until some last-minute misunderstandings crash and burn the whole thing.

Cut to six months later. Bea’s sister Halle (Hadley Robinson) has gotten engaged to Claudia (Alexandria Shipp), whose brother is Pete (GaTa), whose best friend is… wait for it… Ben. Thus Bea and Ben have a wildly contrived reunion and the two of them still hate each other for walking out like they did.

Some time later, all five of them head out to Australia, where Claudia’s mom and stepfather (Carol and Roger, respectively played by Michelle Hurd and Bryan Brown) can host the wedding at their gorgeous estate. Hilarity ensues.

Got all that? Good, because this is where we get into all the convoluted romances and relationships involved. And a lot of them have no basis in the source material. Buckle up.

  • Ben used to be a romantic item with Margaret (Charlee Fraser), but now Margaret is shacked up with a gorgeous yet imbecilic surfer named Beau (Joe Davidson).
  • Bea’s parents (Leo and Innie, respectively played by Dermot Mulroney and Rachel Griffiths) are trying to micromanage Bea’s life, to the extent that they desperately want Bea to marry her ex-fiance Jonathan (Darren Barnet), the attractive and inoffensive block of wood whom they love like a son.
  • In addition to dumping her fiance, Bea also dropped out of law school with no plans for an alternative career path. And she hasn’t told anyone else yet, least of all her domineering parents.
  • Ben wants to get Margaret back.
  • Bea wants her parents and Jonathan off her case.
  • Halle, Claudia, and Claudia’s entire side of the family want Bea and Ben together so they’ll quit sniping at each other and the wedding can proceed as planned.

The upshot is that Bea and Ben agree to pretend that they’re an item. This way, Ben can get Margaret back through sheer force of jealousy, Bea can blow off Jonathan with impunity, and everybody else is happy. This goes pretty much as you’d expect.

Where to begin breaking all this down?

Might as well start with the Shakespeare angle. On the one hand, the movie throws in a bunch of arbitrary Shakespeare quotations that aren’t nearly as reverent as the filmmakers seem to think they are. (“I made that up just now,” fucking bite me.) I might add that while the filmmakers did a good job of keeping what worked about the source material and throwing out pretty much everything that was problematic or outdated, they replaced all that nonsense with threadbare rom-com cliches and convoluted romantic polyhedrons. And it’s not like Shakespeare was ever short on romantic entanglements to begin with.

That said, it’s an old established rule that Shakespeare characters — most especially in his comedies — can be fatally gullible idiots who will believe literally anything they overhear or read in an errant letter. As such, it’s honestly refreshing to watch these characters try and play Bea and Ben like in the source material, only for Bea and Ben themselves to go “Can you believe this shit?” The movie leans HARD into how all these characters keep lying and manipulating and talking about each other behind backs, and I can respect a parody that calls them out on it. Moreover, the notion of people trying to control each other is nicely parlayed into the classic family theme of kids getting forced onto a certain life path by their parents. It’s a nice touch.

Likewise, communication is a massive running theme through the whole picture, most especially when Bea and Ben finally open up and talk about the misunderstandings that drove them apart to begin with. Perhaps most importantly, the classic Beatrice/Benedick conflict is here used as a means of discussing the rocky ups and downs that love and romance can take. A couple who’s happy together is all well and good, but they’re not really built to last unless they can fight with each other and still remain together.

Which brings me to what may be the most defining feature of the film: CRINGE. So much of the comedy in this film is built around cringe humor. This inevitably leads to so many overwrought jokes that hinge on the embarrassment of the characters. It’s not always easy to watch, but again, it plays into the basic premise of characters humiliating each other and the not-always-sympathetic nature of the characters themselves. More importantly, the cringe factor also applies to the romantic angle, leading to moments that are genuinely adorable.

Granted, Sweeney and Powell aren’t very good at playing “conniving” or “scheming”. Even so, when the two of them have to fall convincingly in love or rip each other’s hearts out, they’re all aces. The love/hate chemistry is absolutely there, and the both of them are nicely game for humiliating themselves and each other.

Elsewhere in the cast, the highlights are easily Robinson and Shipp. They take a far more active role in the proceedings and they come off as fleshed-out characters, in comparison to their source material counterparts, so kudos for that. The both of them effectively sell this relationship as a couple of jittery soon-to-be-weds, to the point where it’s enough to keep the plot moving forward.

Pretty much everyone else is playing a broad romcom archetype, mostly to the film’s detriment. I was least impressed with Mulroney and Griffiths, who could not sell their characters’ outrageous obsession with Jonathan and getting their daughter to marry him. Even worse, after the inevitable explosive reveal that Bea wants to go her own way, she reconciles with her parents far too quickly and easily. It’s an embarrassing waste of a development arc that takes up so much of the film.

On a final miscellaneous note, I have to call out the uneven soundtrack. The needle-drop selections are generally pretty solid, but the Leslie Powell score keeps trying way, WAY too hard. Powell keeps overselling the comedy and the romance in a way that typically has the opposite effect.

Overall, Anyone But You evens out to a solidly functional date night movie. It’s nothing new or innovative or thoughtful, but it was never really built to be anything more than a quick and breezy disposable romcom trifle. It’s a film that aims for mediocrity and achieves its goal.

Your mileage may vary, depending on how much you know or care about the original Shakespeare play. (Trust me, I know from experience that a depressing number of people have zero sense of humor when it comes to Shakespeare.) I certainly wouldn’t recommend it for a big screen viewing with so much else running in multiplexes right now, but this doesn’t feel like a movie built for box office grosses.

This movie was always meant to find its audience on home video. I don’t think it’ll be anyone’s favorite movie, but I’m sure some couple out there will have a good time watching this while curled up together with a glass of wine.

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