“Anyone But You” is nothing more than “eh,” and “eh” is just a two-letter word.
Director and co-writer Will Gluck’s riff on “Much Ado About Nothing,” loosely based on an earlier play by Shakespeare, was shot in Australia and stars Glen Powell as Ben and Sydney Sweeney as Bea, the equivalents of Benedick and Beatrice taking. They meet amiably in a cafe, have a wonderful evening of introductions, part at dawn under tense, hurtful circumstances, and then uneasily reunite when Sweeney’s character’s sister announces a wedding will be held near Sydney (Australia, not Sweeney). Both Bea and Ben are invited.
Ben works at home (something money-related, never explained) and lives in the stylish, uncluttered apartment favored by sociopaths and serial killers, as Bea points out. Bea is a conflicted trainee lawyer who has recently dumped her long-term boyfriend (Darren Barnet). Bea has dropped out of law school but hasn’t told her parents yet (played by Dermot Mulroney and ensemble standout Rachel Griffiths).
Hoaxes abound at the beach house the family and their American guests share for the weekend. Both Bea and Ben’s exes appear (Charlee Fraser plays Ben’s summer surfer boyfriend). The brides-to-be, played by Alexandra Shipp and Hadley Robinson, don’t want Bea and Ben fighting to ruin their wedding, so “Everybody But You” strategically constructs overheard conversations. to Shakespeare designed it to make Bea and Ben think they were secretly sweet to each other. They soon realize this, but to avoid trouble they decide to play along and pretend to be a couple after all.
Theoretically it can be implemented. This kind of thing has worked for centuries when done with flourish, or in this case flourish plus references to “these two (expletives).” But romantic comedy has little need for theory. It’s about practice, execution, and often indefinable things that matter: charm, intelligence, sincerity, and emotion bubbling up in strange and meaningful moments. The great moment in Shakespeare’s play is when Beatrice looks back on her romantic past with Benedick and says she won his heart with “false dice”; This is worth its weight in gold. A player can find a thousand different ways to interpret this. And without that moment, everything else in the plot becomes less important.
“Everyone But You” settles for less. This is a movie about Powell and his abs, frequently slipping in and out of his underwear for entertainment. Or dressing Sweeney in another beach outfit, or preparing for close-ups of confusion, disdain, repressed but dazzling lust. Lines from Shakespeare’s 1599 text – still a small fragment, by the way – appear on the screen (“Take your part in disguise”; “clash of wits”).
It’s a lot of fun to see Bryan Brown and Michelle Hurd as Shipp’s character’s parents. As for the leads: Powell is an interesting example of a solid, versatile actor who has yet to fully emerge on the big screen. He’s pretty good at a lot of different things; He’s clearly well-versed in the over-the-top, genre-bound comedy that thrives on Richard Linklater’s eccentric comedy. 1980s set “Everybody Wants Some!” It’s treated like a Restoration comedy with a Texas twist.
Powell, in the lead role here, sticks to the same two or three notes in the tone of smugness that followed his strong supporting work in “Top Gun: Maverick.” It’s written that way, so an actor will have to do a lot of work on their own to overcome the limitations. Sweeney, meanwhile, goes his own way, playfully leaning into physical comedy (Bea’s propensity for accidents) while blunting many of his answers. Sweeney has talent in many ways. At this point, verbal sparring is not one of them.
Despite the landscape, both geographical and human, it feels as if Gluck and company are trying to win our hearts with fake dice and leads that could be as photogenic as the Sydney Opera House we keep seeing in the background. But being photogenic is not the same as being seductive. “Anyone But You” is neither a scary nor a funny movie. These are all something else.
“Anyone But You” — 2 stars (out of 4)
MPA rating: R (for language throughout, sexual content and brief graphic nudity)
Running time: 1:44
How to watch: Premieres in theaters December 20.
Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.