Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell’s rom-com is much ado about nothing

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(MA) 103 minutes

Were we all duped? Yes, I think we were all duped.

For months, Anyone But You – the anticipated, Sydney-shot romantic comedy from director Will Gluck (Friends with Benefits, Peter Rabbit) – had built stunning momentum on its behind-the-scenes bona fides, leaked shots of its attractive leads Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell canoodling off set and playing up the “Did they or didn’t they?” intrigue around their screen chemistry, to the point that onlookers had already earmarked the film as rom-com’s great box office hope, a return to the big, steamy, oversexed delights of the genre’s Y2K-era peak.

Glenn Powell, Sydney Sweeney and Sydney Harbour go broad in the new rom-com Anyone But You.Credit: Brook Rushton/Sony via AP

But now, it all makes sense. Watch the movie; there’s no way these guys hooked up. Whatever sparkling chemistry we thought we saw in the film’s immaculate PR drip-feed, it’s barely there in the final product. (Coincidentally, what is there is a producer credit for Sweeney’s real-life fiance Jonathan Davino – no wonder she was so unbothered by the intrusive headlines.)

Loosely based on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, the film follows Bea (Sweeney) and Ben (Powell), one-night hook-ups turned enemies, who are forced to spend a week with each other at her sister’s and his friend’s destination wedding in Sydney. It’s not easy for spurned lovers to be civil, but they agree to fake a relationship, to keep the peace for their families and friends (a motley crew including Bryan Brown and Rachel Griffiths) and to induce the jealous attraction of their exes (Aussie newcomer Charlee Fraser and a criminally underused Darren Barnet).

Loosely based on Much Ado About Nothing, the film hits all the familiar rom-com sweet spots.Credit: Brook Rushton/Sony via AP

Much Ado About a Nothing, with its bickering lovers guarding finer feelings under barbed swipes and emotional subterfuge, has long proved a template for screwball comedies and rom-coms, a framework so familiar the dumbest AI could churn out a script. Gluck isn’t going for innovation – with its big-budget slickness, he’s at least rescuing the genre from Netflix’s cheap dominance – but hitting fan-service beats the same way a Marvel epic might: there’s an awkward meet-cute in a cafe bathroom, a hijinks-heavy set-piece where clothes come off, a helicopter, a wedding dance and roll credits to a cast singalong.

For some, this might be enough. But the leads’ stilted chemistry – at least when not half-naked – doesn’t help.

Sweeney, for all her onscreen magnetism, is not a comedy natural – she’s at her best when she’s sullen and aloof, a bombshell with an inner complexity that’s hard to pin down (see: The White Lotus, Euphoria, this year’s Reality). It’s an unfair bar, but you can’t help thinking of Bea with Sandra Bullock’s spunky energy or Julia Roberts’ droll charm. Powell fares better, if just ’cause his laconic Texan drawl evokes Matthew McConaughey, the genre’s masculine icon, but with a daffiness that undercuts his suave exterior.

At least Destination NSW will be pleased with the film. For locals, seeing a cafe at Barangaroo doubling for Boston might be confusing and, like me, you might spend half the film pointing at the screen and muttering “Pfft, the Grounds of Alexandria” as Powell walks by obvious landmarks such as the Queen Victoria Building in the city, but it’s an interesting experience seeing Sydney depicted onscreen with classic Hollywood romanticism.

Oddly enough, the movie’s best gags are about our coffee culture. This is how the world sees us? In a film that’s much ado about nothing, it’s something to hold on to, I guess?

Anyone But You is released in cinemas on December 26.

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