Review: ‘Anyone But You’ (2023), starring Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell

December 28, 2023

by Carla Hay

Glen Powell and Sydney Sweeney in “Anyone But You” (Photo by Brook Rushton/Columbia Pictures)

“Anyone But You” (2023)

Directed by Will Gluck

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city and in Sydney, Australia, the comedy film “Anyone But You” (loosely based on the William Shakespeare play “Much Ado About Nothing”) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people, a few Asians and one indgenous person) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After have a great first date together, a young would-be couple have angry feelings toward each other because of misunderstandings, but then they pretend to be a couple to make their respective ex-lovers jealous.

Culture Audience: “Anyone But You” will appeal primarily to fans of stars Sydney Sweeney, Glen Powell, and corny and predictable romantic comedies.

Glen Powell and Sydney Sweeney in “Anyone But You” (Photo by Brook Rushton/Columbia Pictures)

When will certain filmmakers learn that pretty people in pretty locations do not automatically equal an enjoyable romantic comedy? William Shakespeare would cringe in embarrassment if he saw this lousy interpretation of “Much Ado About Nothing.” There isn’t anything creative, surprising or truly entertaining about “Anyone But You,” which is an example of a lazy rom com coasting by on some of the most overused clichés in romantic comedies.

Directed by Will Gluck (who co-wrote the trite and hollow “Anyone But You” screenplay with Ilana Wolpert), “Anyone But You” has a mostly talented cast stuck in roles that make most of their characters in the movie look like immature dolts. Adults who are in their 20s and 30s act more like teenagers who are inexperienced in dating. And the middle-aged parents in the story are nothing but shallow rom-com stereotypes of meddling relatives who interfere in their adult children’s love lives.

“Anyone But You” begins with the “meet cute” scene between the would-be couple at the center of the story. Beatrice “Bea” Messina (played by Sydney Sweeney), who’s in her mid-20s, says she’s a student in law school. Ben (played by Glen Powell), who’s in his mid-30s, has a background in finance and works as an online trader. Bea and Ben both live an unnamed U.S. city, where they meet at a local coffee shop.

Bea is in a hurry to be somewhere else when she goes into the coffee shop to use the restroom. She starts a conversation with an unfriendly barista (played by Mia Artemis), who abruptly tells her that the restroom is only for customers. Bea says she’ll buy something, but to her dismay, she sees that there’s a long line of customers.

Ben happens to be near the front of the line and notices Bea’s predicament because he overheard the conversation. All of sudden, Ben pretends that Bea is his wife, and he places her order for her. There’s an immediate attraction and rapport between Bea and Ben, as they play along at pretending to be spouses.

Bea excuses herself to use the restroom (which is a small room with one toilet) and calls her sister Halle (played by Hadley Robinson) to tell her about this attractive stranger she just met. Halle is also Bea’s best friend. As mentioned later in the movie, Bea met Ben when she was taking a break from her relationship with her fiancé Jonathan, whom she has known for years. Bea wanted this separation from Jonathan because she’s having doubts about getting married to anyone. Jonathan (played by Darren Barnet) doesn’t show up until the movie is half over.

Bea tells Halle that she could change her mind about dating someone new because she’s interested in getting to know Ben better. During this phone conversation in the restroom, Bea accidentally splashes a lot of sink water all over the front her jeans. This leads to a not-very-funny scene of Bea taking off her jeans and awkwardly using the hand dryer to get rid of the water stain, which could be misinterpreted as a urine stain.

Ben is patiently waiting for Bea outside, not knowing that flustered Bea is frantically trying to dry her jeans so she won’t give Ben the wrong impression about her hygiene. When she steps out of the bathroom, she doesn’t notice that a strand of toilet paper is stuck to the bottom of one of her shoes. Ben discreetly steps on the paper so it gets unstuck. All of this is supposed to be hilarious, but it’s just so boring.

Bea and Ben leave the coffee shop, which leads to a conversation where their mutual attraction to each other grows. Ben spontaneously invites Bea over to his place, where he makes grilled cheese sandwiches for both of them. They flirt some more and tell each other a little bit more about their lives. Bea says that even though she’s a law student, she’s not sure if she wants to become a lawyer.

Ben opens up to Bea and tells her about his most treasured possession: a giant wrench figurine given to him by his mother, who died an untold number of years ago. Ben’s father is not seen or mentioned in the movie. Bea and Ben spend the rest of the night talking. They fall asleep together on his couch.

When Bea wakes up, she thinks Ben is still asleep. She leaves without saying goodbye or leaving a note. However, Ben has noticed that Bea made a quick exit, and his feelings are hurt because he misinterprets it as Bea not being as interested in him as he’s interested in her.

Ben’s longtime best friend Pete (played by GaTa) shows up almost immediately after Bea leaves. He congratulates Ben on possibly finding a new love interest. Ben feels rejected by Bea, but his bruised ego won’t let him admit it to Pete. Instead, Ben lies to Pete to make it sound like Ben was the one who rejected Bea. “The girl is a disaster. I couldn’t get rid of her fast enough,” Ben tells Pete.

It just so happens that Bea has overheard Ben insult her in this part of the conversation, because (on the advice of Halle), Bea decided to go back to Ben’s place to make plans to see him again. Bea thinks that they had a magical night together, but she gets angry when she overhears through the open door what Ben is saying about her. Ben and Pete don’t see Bea eavesdropping and don’t find out until later that she has heard this part of the conversation.

Ben and Bea see each other again by chance at a nightclub when Bea is there with Halle and Halle’s new girlfriend Claudia (played by Alexandra Shipp), who just happens to be Pete’s younger sister. And lo and behold, all five of them are at this nightclub at the same time. The conversation becomes tense and uncomfortable when Bea and Ben start to snipe at each other and make it clear that they don’t want to see each other again.

Two years later, Halle and Claudia have gotten engaged and have planned a destination wedding to take place in Sydney, Australia, where Claudia’s parents live. All of their family members in the movie accept Halle and Claudia’s same-sex relationship. Claudia’s tactless father Roger (played by Bryan Brown) is a native Australian who is some type of business mogul. Roger is Pete’s stepfather; there’s no mention of where Pete’s biological father is. The mother of Pete and Claudia is Carol (played by Michelle Hurd), who likes to practice New Age healing techniques.

As for the parents of Bea and Halle, they are overbearing and worried that Bea might never get married. The sisters’ father Leo (played by Dermot Mulroney) and mother Innie (played by Rachel Griffiths) had their hearts set on Bea marrying Jonthan, because they think Jonathan would be the perfect husband for Bea. You can almost do a countdown to when Leo and Innie invite Jonathan to go to the wedding in Australia to be a “surprise” date for Bea. This plot development is already revealed in the trailer for “Anyone But You.”

In a conversation between Bea and Halle, the two sisters discuss how when they were children, Bea talked a lot about looking forward to being married, while Halle was very wary of marriage. And now, the sisters’ opinions of marriage have switched, with Bea now being the one who doesn’t have a desire to get married. Bea tells Halle that she’s happy for her and Claudia and completely supports their plans for marriage.

“Anyone But You” predictably shows Bea and Ben on the same plane flight to Australia and not being happy about it. More shenanigans ensue when Ben finds out that the Australian model-type ex-girlfriend who dumped him is also a wedding guest. Her name is Margaret (played by Charlee Fraser), and she is a cousin of Claudia and Pete. Margaret’s current boyfriend is a less-than-smart surfer named Beau (played by Joe Davidson), who talks in hokey Australian slang clichés that sound like what American screenwriters think Australian surfers sound like.

The rest of “Anyone But You” is a series of tiresome scenarios of friends and family members interfering with and being judgmental of the love lives of Bea and Ben. Bea and Ben then decide to pretend to be a couple (it was Bea’s idea), to get these intrusive people to back off, as well as to make Jonathan and Margaret jealous. Bea has no interest in getting back together with Jonathan, so she wants to look “unavailable.” Ben has lingering feelings for Margaret and hopes that if Margaret sees Ben and Bea as a couple, then Margaret might want to get back together with Ben.

“Anyone But You” over-relies on slapstick comedy with adults in various states of nudity or being in wet, clingy clothing. It’s supposed to be sexy and funny, but it just looks so fake and trying too hard. And when there’s an unimaginative romantic comedy that has a wedding as a major part of the story, you just know there’s going to be some kind of mishap involving the wedding cake.

Even more irritating: “Anyone But You” has some stupid scenes of characters attempting to manipulate what Bea and Ben do, by intentionally fabricating conversations that they want Bea and Ben to overhear. The story of this would-be couple is very unbalanced in the movie. Viewers learn a lot about Bea’s family and almost nothing about Ben’s family. What you will hear a lot of in the movie is Natasha Bedingfield’s 2004 hit “Unwritten,” which is put to very cloying use when cast members sing the song off-key at several points, including an end-credits montage.

Sweeney and Powell put in a fairly good effort in trying to be convincing as two people who’ve fallen in love on their first date and then spend most of their time together denying their true feelings. However, their comedic timing is often mismatched. Almost nothing in this movie is believable (including co-star chemistry that looks forced), and most of the movie’s characters are annoying. “Anyone But You” is ultimately a failed attempt to be a lovable romantic comedy. It’s only effective in being a showcase for how attractive locations can look with the right cinematography.

Columbia Pictures released “Anyone But You” in U.S. cinemas on December 22, 2023.

Review: ‘The King’s Daughter,’ starring Pierce Brosnan, Kaya Scodelario, Benjamin Walker, Rachel Griffiths, Julie Andrews, Fan Bingbing and William Hurt

January 22, 2022

by Carla Hay

Pierce Brosnan and Kaya Scodelario in “The King’s Daughter” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures/Universal Studios Home Entertainment)

“The King’s Daughter”

Directed by Sean McNamara

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1684 in Versailles, France, the fantasy drama film “The King’s Daughter” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with a few black people and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and royalty.

Culture Clash: King Louis XIV wants to get immortality by taking the life force from a magical mermaid, but the king’s rebellious daughter Marie-Josèphe does everything she can to prevent this mermaid’s death.

Culture Audience: “The King’s Daughter” will appeal primarily to people who like watching tacky and poorly made fairy-tale movies.

Kaya Scodelario and Benjamin Walker in “The King’s Daughter” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures/Universal Studios Home Entertainment)

“The King’s Daughter” is a laughably bad movie that seems like a parody, but with no self-awareness about how truly awful it is. It’s a fantasy drama filled with hokey dialogue, cheesy visual effects, and high-society women in 1680s France who dress like 1980s prom queens. Some of the scenery and production design are nice to look at (parts of the movie were filmed at the Palace of Versailles), but everything else is so bottom-of-the-barrel predictable and corny, it’s an embarrassment to everyone involved in making this horrendous flop.

Directed by Sean McNamara, “The King’s Daughter” is adapted from Vonda N. McIntyre’s 1997 novel “The Moon and the Sun,” which was a combination of science fiction and historical romance. Barry Berman and James Schamus adapted the novel for “The King’s Daughter” screenplay, by hacking up “The Moon and the Sun” and turning it into a screenplay equivalent of a cheap and vapid romance novel. “The King’s Daughter” takes place in 1684 in Versailles, France, but the movie looks like the filmmakers just wanted to stick the movie in a palace setting, hire some well-known actors, and then hope the audience doesn’t notice how phony everything looks. “The King’s Daughter,” which was originally titled “The Moon and the Sun,” was filmed in 2014, and went through several studio ownerships before being released in 2022. It’s easy to see why multiple movie studios didn’t want to release this movie for all of these years.

The makeup and costume design in “The King’s Daughter” can best be described as careless, with too many modern details that make the movie look confused about the century in which this story is supposed to take place. Things aren’t much better with how “The King’s Daughter” has wildly uneven acting that ranges from campy to bored. Maybe it’s because the dialogue that the cast members have to work with is so cringeworthy. Somehow, the filmmakers convinced Oscar-winning actress Julie Andrews to do some voiceover narration for “The King’s Daughter.” Someone should’ve told Andrews that this atrocious movie makes “The Princess Diaries” look like an Oscar-worthy masterpiece in comparison.

“The King’s Daughter” has a muddled story about King Louis XIV (played by Pierce Brosnan, hamming it up in a long-haired wig) wanting to live forever, because he’s so egotistical that he thinks France will go downhill if he dies. “My immortality secures the future of France!” King Louis XIV pompously declares. King Louis XIV, who is also called the Sun King, feels more urgency to find the secret to immortality after he survives a botched assassination attempt upon his victorious return from a war. This assassination scene is sloppily acted: The king gets shot on the side of his abdomen, but then he’s able to get up, as if he just has a slight bruise.

The king’s personal physician Dr. Labarth (played by Pablo Schreiber) tells him that in the underwater Lost City of Atlantis, there’s a fabled female sea creature that could hold the secret to immortality. In order for the immortality magic to work, the creature’s life force can only be taken when the sun meets the moon—in other words, a solar eclipse. The king’s other close advisor is a priest named Père La Chaise (played by a William Hurt), who thinks it’s a bad idea to try to mess with nature and matters of life and death. The priest’s warning doesn’t stop the king from ordering a ship of naval subordinates to find this sea creature in Atlantis.

Captain Yves De La Croix (played by Benjamin Walker) is the ship’s leader. It doesn’t take long for Yves and his men to find two mysterious sea creatures and capture them. The creatures are a mermaid (played by Fan Bingbing, also known as Binging Fan) and a merman, who are a couple with an infant child. The merman is let go, but the mermaid (who’s never given a name) is brought back to an underground grotto area at the king’s palace. Later, it’s shown that the mermaid quickly gave the infant to another mermaid for safekeeping when she saw her male partner being captured and she knew she would be next.

Meanwhile, the beginning of “The King’s Daughter” shows a feisty young woman named Marie-Josèphe (played by Kaya Scodelario), who has grown up in a convent by the sea, being scolded by some nuns for Marie-Josèphe’s penchant of wanting to swim in the sea. Rachel Griffiths has a cameo as the convent’s head abbess. Marie-Josèphe’s unnamed mother (played by Tiffany Hofstetter, in a flashback) died when she was a baby. Marie-Josèphe’s father is King Louis XIV, who knows about Marie-Josèphe, but he never claimed her because she’s an illegitimate child.

Marie-Josèphe has grown up not knowing who her father is, but she’s about to find out. Faster than you can say “stupid fairy-tale movie,” Marie-Josèphe is summoned to the palace by the king, who has no other children and is thinking about his legacy in case he can’t live forever. Eventually, Marie-Josèphe finds out that the king is her father, but he orders her not to tell anyone that he’s her father. The movie tries in overly contrived ways to make Marie-Josephe look like a “relatable princess.” For example, Marie-Josephe clumsily falls in a fountain outside of the palace the first time that she meets the king.

The big conflict in the story comes when Marie-Josèphe finds out about the captured mermaid and wants to free the mermaid from captivity, against the king’s wishes. “The King’s Daughter” awkwardly wastes a lot of time getting to this big conflict. After Marie-Josèphe discovers the captured mermaid in the grotto and starts to befriend her, Marie-Josèphe suddenly gets the urge to play the cello. The music that Marie-Josephe plays is the music she can hear the mermaid communicate. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

When she’s not playing in a string orchestra on the palace lawn, as if she’s some kind of wedding performer, Marie-Josèphe is secretly visiting the mermaid. The strange moaning and shrieks that come out of the mermaid’s mouth can only be described as sounding like a mutation of a whale and a dolphin. The mediocre visual effects for the mermaid are often obscured by the water. The mermaid also glows in the dark.

Marie-Josèphe also hangs out with her lady-in-waiting Magali (played by Crystal Clarke), who is kind of an airhead. This is what Magali says to Marie-Josèphe when Magali finds out that she and Marie-Josèphe both grew up without their biological parents: “Trauma at the start of life often inspires greatness.” The casting of Magali is racially problematic because she is the only black person with a speaking role in the movie—and she’s a servant character who’s essentially a “mammy” stereotype seen in outdated and racist movies.

The movie’s grossly inaccurate fashions are random and very distracting. The society women and men of the king’s court sneer at Marie-Josèphe when she first arrives at the palace, because she’s dressed like a peasant. But some of the women are styled to look like Goths who got rejected from a Siouxie and the Banshees music video from the 1980s.

The fashion mistakes don’t stop there. Marie-Josèphe starts to dress more like a princess, but her gowns are the types of dresses that high school girls in 1980s teen romantic comedies would wear in scenes for proms or homecoming dances. Magali sometimes wears a plastic headband that looks like it was bought at a corner drugstore, not something that belongs to a lady-in-waiting in 1680s France. Yves sometimes wears a modern-styled leather jacket, as if he’s about to go on a motorcycle ride in a century when motorcycles weren’t even invented.

Every princess movie has a love story. In “The King’s Daughter,” Yves and Marie-Josèphe make goo-goo eyes at each other almost as soon as they meet, when he catches her hanging out in the grotto with the mermaid. Their courtship plays out exactly like you expect it would. Scodelario and Walker have some on-screen chemistry together (probably because they became a real-life couple because of this movie and got married in real life), but the romance in the movie is very dull.

Predictably, Yves is under orders from the king to keep the mermaid in captivity. Marie-Josèphe wants to set the mermaid free. As Yves and Marie-Josèphe fall in love, his loyalty is torn between King Louis XIV and Marie-Josèphe. You know how this is is going to end, so there’s no suspense.

Marie-Josèphe gets a serious injury on her right arm after falling off of a horse. Dr. Labarth recommends that her arm be amputated. But lo and behold, Marie-Josèphe goes down to the grotto to visit the mermaid, who heals Marie-Josèphe’s arm completely. It makes the king even more determined to steal the mermaid’s powers during the upcoming solar eclipse.

And because this movie is filled with clichés, there’s a love triangle. A haughty rich guy named Jean-Michel Lintillac (played by Ben Lloyd-Hughes) is making King Louis XIV feel guilty because Jean-Michel’s military father was killed in the war, and Jean-Michel blames the king. To get this complainer off of his back, the king offers Jean-Michel the title of duke. Later, the king arranges for Marie-Josèphe to marry Jean-Michel because the king doesn’t want Marie-Josèphe to be romantically involved with a commoner like Yves, who has some kind of past feud with Jean-Michel.

As the feisty and plucky Marie-Josèphe, Scodelario seems to give a sincere effort to embody her character, but her scenes with Brosnan are undercut by his campy over-the-top acting. Jean-Michel and Dr. Labarthe are just cardboard-like villains, although “Sons of Anarchy” alum Schreiber as Dr. Labarthe should be given some credit for playing a character outside of his usual “working-class tough guy” persona. Meanwhile, Oscar-winning actor Hurt (as Père La Chaise) looks embarrassed to be in this movie. Viewers who watch this train-wreck film might be embarrassed too at wasting their time with this junk.

Gravitas Ventures released “The King’s Daughter” in U.S. cinemas on January 21, 2022.

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