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Movie Review: “Anyone but You”

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         Not every week brings a shiny new blockbuster for me to review. Sometimes I need to look to the holdovers. Sadly, I’m not referring to “The Holdovers,” one of the best films of 2023 that you should definitely check out if it’s playing in your area. I’m referring to whichever movie did the best at the weekend box office that I haven’t already reviewed, even if it isn’t that new and didn’t do that well. This week that movie is “Anyone but You,” which came in fifth place at the domestic box office in its sixth weekend. While much better Christmas releases like “The Color Purple” have slid down the chart since the holiday season, this one has managed to stay in the top five. It has actually made more money than any movie to open in 2024, but that’s with a multi-week head start. However else I feel about the movie, I can understand its consistent performance, as its tone is a light and agreeable one that makes it a good compromise movie for couples and groups of friends.

            The movie, based on Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” follows attractive singles Ben (Glen Powell) and Bea (Sydney Sweeney) as they have an adorably awkward meetup in a coffee shop that turns into a date. Clearly they both want a romantic relationship, but the prospect scares them, so they sabotage what they have. They try to forget about each other until Ben’s friend Claudia (Alexandra Shipp) gets engaged to Bea’s sister Halle (Hadley Robinson) and they’re forced to be around each other for the wedding in Australia. And yes, it’s the kind of lavish movie wedding that will make everyone in the audience feel insecure about their own ceremony, or lack of one.

            Since even the other characters can see that Ben and Bea are perfect for each other, most of them spend the weekend trying to play matchmaker. The two get so annoyed that they reach a truce and agree to pretend to be nauseatingly enamored just to get everyone off their backs. Even if you’re not familiar with the play, you’ve probably seen enough romantic comedies to know where this is going: their pretend banter will turn into real banter, which will lead to real feelings, which will lead to a real relationship, which they may or may not sabotage all over again.

            With the story so predictable, it’s up to the film’s humor to save it, with mixed results. Powell and Sweeney have undeniable chemistry and charm. I see bright futures for both of their careers, which hopefully means getting smarter scripts than this. The film makes the curious decision to take an R-rated route that I think makes it less endearing. I’m not saying that light, romantic comedies can’t be R-rated (off the top of my head, “When Harry Met Sally…” and Judd Apatow’s late-2000’s hot streak come to mind, and I don’t see those movies working without some R-rated elements), but this movie’s crudest jokes aren’t its best. With a PG-13 rating, it could have reached a wider audience that I don’t think was worth sacrificing for some ill-advised “edginess.”

            “Anyone but You” is bland and corny and the characters are idiots. Yet I have to admit that I was somewhat sucked into the movie by its end, largely owing to its absolutely correct assertion that “Unwritten” by Natasha Bedingfield is a perfect singalong song. Just don’t mistake this begrudging affection for the real affection I have for much better movies like “The Holdovers.” See that one instead if you can.

Grade (for “Anyone but You”): C

And while I’m here, Grade for “The Holdovers: A-

“Anyone but You” is rated R for language throughout, sexual content and brief graphic nudity. Its running time is 103 minutes.

Contact Bob Garver at rrg251@nyu.edu.