Will Gluck, who has earlier helmed films like Easy A and Friends with Benefits, trades inventive charm for empty predictability

The year is 2024 and the romcom genre is all but dead. Most studios are preoccupied with selling experiences in the guise of superhero films, relegating the frothiness of romantic comedies to a footnote. The adrenaline-riddled summer blockbusters leave little to no space for the specific kind of outings where feelings are aired and emotions are vented.

But their absence is also guided by how rapidly the landscape of modern-day dating has transformed of late. Digital intervention has not just altered the rules of engagement but rendered the hitherto relied upon template of serendipity and chance encounters obsolete, thus pushing for a reboot of the genre. Will Gluck’s Anyone but You, headlined by Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell, could have been that film. Except, it is not.

A formulaic mess

Gluck, who in the past has helmed films like Easy A (2010) and Friends with Benefits (2011), trades inventive charm for empty predictability in his latest work. Anyone but You unfolds as a glammed-up reiteration of every jaded romantic comedy trope in the book and makes no semblance of an effort for ingenuity. Things, as they often do, start at a coffee shop. One day, Bea (Sweeney), a reluctant law student, and Ben (Powell), a finance dude bro, run into each other. They end up talking and spending the night together. But some misunderstanding occurs and they end up not meeting after that.

Cut to several months later when they discover that Ben’s childhood friend is dating Bea’s sister. The wedding is finalized to take place in Australia, forcing the presence of both Ben and Bea who by now have become arch enemies. It is easy to see how things can unravel from here and Gluck does not miss a beat. Exes are thrown into the mix, intrusive parents make their presence felt as we sit and watch a strikingly pretty looking film gradually dissolve into its own formulaic mess.

There are plenty of problems plaguing Gluck’s outing. For once, there is very little information about the leads at our disposal at any given point of time. What we know about Bea is that she is not too keen to study law. And Ben shares a sentimental story about his mother on their first meet and later reveals that she is dead. Holding these in its hand, Anyone but You expects us to not just remain interested but invested in their lives. A tall demand that is further addled by the fact the actors share little chemistry.

There are plenty of problems plaguing Gluck’s outing. For once, there is very little information about the leads at our disposal at any given point of time.

The calibrated familiarity of it all

Sweeney, who is also an executive producer on the project, is compelling in dramatic roles (The White Lotus and Euphoria are good examples) but the actor does not possess the breezy charm or the disarming appeal required to imbue believability to an already underwritten role. Powell, on the other hand, with his six pack abs (or maybe it’s eight) perpetually struts about like he is swathed in bronze. He seems like a man who is too interested in himself and protein shake to be curious about anyone else.

The much used and abused genre of romcom rests on calibrated familiarity. The ending is forever known. The boy finds the girl. He might make a dash for a hotel with his friends in a racing car or overcome his fear of height and climb up to the love of his life. But the final picture is always that of two star-crossed lovers with their arms wrapped around each other. But this is not what lends an enduring appeal to romantic comedies and make them bearers of hope.

What makes them hopeful is the impossibility of it. It is the impossibility of a big movie star falling in love with a man who runs a bookstore in Notting Hill. It is the impossibility of a recently divorced man meeting a hooker one night and both falling in love with each other. It is the impossibility of bailing out on one’s wedding on realizing that the heart wants what the heart wants. They instill in us the hope that if stars align perfectly, even the monotony of our lives can transform into the charm of a story.

Among other issues in Gluck’s film, the more crucial one is that the filmmaker borrows the embellishments of classics without abstracting the soul. Ben and Bea’s story is so flimsy that it comes across as unfeasible in a non dire kind of way. Both of them are always perfectly turned out. They look pretty, they do pretty things like their stylists are on their speed dial. There is no improbability to their romance, no impossibility to it. Their parents do not oppose it and they seem too shallow as characters to really know what they want. There is no reason why they should not be together and during the film’s runtime it ceases to matter if they are.

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